The Hastings Center  |  February 10, 2022

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Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, societies have faced agonizing decisions about whether to close schools, shutter businesses, delay nonemergency health care, restrict travel, and authorize the use of emergency Covid-19 countermeasures under limited scientific understanding. When both action and inaction can result in significant harm and irreversible damage, decisions surrounding infection control measures become complicated. Yet ethics can help us think about hard trade-offs that weigh competing values and have deep consequences for society and particularly the most disadvantaged. This essay discusses the challenges of making policy trade-offs amid scientific uncertainty. While there may be no perfect formula for deciding what to do and when, we propose four key considerations for assessing risk-risk trade-offs and apply those considerations to the areas of education, economies, health care, travel and migration, social engagement, and medical countermeasures.

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