An uproar has resulted from Calgary Flames players and their families receiving preferential treatment in receiving h1N1 flu shots while many Albertans were turned away due to a shortage of the vaccine. Other stories tell of the Flames' farm team, the Heat, receiving shots at an undisclosed clinic.
No one should be surprised to hear of such things happening. But there are important points to consider here. First, there is a shortage of the vaccine. Whether it is Dion Phaneuf or John Q. Public who is turned away by the shortage is moot. In the sense that there wasn't a random selection, or some discerning criteria for selection, it is very troubling to see a group of people given the shots instead of another group, the regular Joes that stood outside public vaccination clinics only to be turned away. But in general, I feel no better or worse knowing that the limited group of people receiving the treatment were of one group or another.
What bothers me about this situation is that free market principles would have enabled the Flames to pay for vaccination according to high market prices (induced by the shortage). But instead we reject market principles because it seems unfair to allocate resources through free transactions. But I ask those who cringe at the thought of the wealthy buying up vaccines, is it any less troubling to watch a shortage affect the wealthy than the poor? At least if the market forces were at play, there would be some additional revenue to speak of which could be reinvested to produce more vaccine. And when shortages cause prices to be bid up in the market, it signals entrepreneurs to invest in the activity and provide the product so that they can get a cut of the action.
Instead the government wants to ration out the vaccine according to certain criteria and otherwise to random selection (or first come, first served). While putting a price on health care seems cold, there is no moral high ground to random selection. This is particularly so when we consider the harmful effects of government supply mismanagement and disinterest in maximizing revenues that could be reinvested into ongoing production of the vaccine.
Just think, the Flames could have been vaccinated AND there could have been a profit to encourage further production of the vaccine to counter the shortage.