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Pandemic prioritarianism
  1. Lasse Nielsen
  1. Philosophy, Department for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lasse Nielsen, Philosophy, Department for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark, Odense 5230, Denmark; lasseni{at}


Prioritarianism pertains to the generic idea that it matters more to benefit people, the worse off they are, and while prioritarianism is not uncontroversial, it is considered a generally plausible and widely shared distributive principle often applied to healthcare prioritisation. In this paper, I identify social justice prioritarianism, severity prioritarianism and age-weighted prioritarianism as three different interpretations of the general prioritarian idea and discuss them in light of the effect of pandemic consequences on healthcare priority setting. On this analysis, the paper arrives at the following three conclusions: (1) that we have strong prioritarian reasons for special concern about the vulnerable and socially disadvantaged in reference to pandemic effects, (2) that severity of illness is an important factor in identifying the worse off in priority setting but that this must not over-ride the special priority to the socially disadvantaged and (3) that the maximisation rationale of the age-weighted view runs against the core prioritarian idea, and the age-weighted prioritarianism is thus unfitting as a prioritarian response to the COVID-19 case.

  • allocation of health care resources
  • distributive justice
  • ethics
  • political philosophy

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  • Contributors LN is the sole contributor.

  • Funding The work was conducted as part of a research project funded by the Independent Danish Research Fund, Grant Number 9017-00007B.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.