Experts Weigh In on Policymaking for a Post-Pandemic World

In early December, we convened a number of panels with experts to discuss the most pressing issues facing business, government and society. Starting today, we’re publishing a special series of articles about these gatherings, which we call the DealBook D.C. Policy Project. We will highlight a new debate every day over the next eight days, covering climate change, Big Tech, U.S.-China relations, police reform and more.

We start with the policy implications of the pandemic, featuring a group of doctors, medical scholars and health care executives, moderated by The Times’s Carl Zimmer. An effective vaccine has long been promoted as the lifeline that will save lives and revive the economy. Yet the impending arrival of vaccines raises questions about equity, education and how battered American institutions should prepare for the next pandemic, while repairing the damage wrought by this one.

Who should get vaccines first? While the C.D.C. recommends protecting health care workers and nursing home residents first, it makes more sense to allocate scarce vaccinations by people’s health conditions instead of working ones, according to Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard.

Neighborhood pharmacies are becoming hubs for vaccination efforts. Thomas Moriarty of CVS Health said that chains like his are increasingly at the forefront of educating people about vaccines as well as distributing the shots.

  • One challenge pharmacies face is convincing skeptics, but Mr. Moriarty said CVS data showed the situation was improving: “Getting past the politics and seeing the results of the science is helping alleviate some of that hesitancy.”

Rebuilding trust is key. Faith in institutions has eroded, and needs to be rebuilt, according to Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University. That’s a lengthy process and requires modifying messages for different groups.

  • Special attention must be paid to Black, Latino and Asian communities, which have borne the brunt of coronavirus cases in the U.S., but — thanks to the legacy of racism — are particularly wary of taking the vaccine, said James Hildreth, the president of Meharry Medical College. “If the messenger is not trusted you’re wasting your time,” he said.

“The pandemic did more than just make us physically sick,” said Ruth Faden, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins. The “horrible gaps” in access to health care exposed by the pandemic could spur efforts to fix them with greater urgency, she said, “and if not, it will be profoundly depressing.”