Should Our Supervisor Have Told us That a Work Colleague Had Covid?


There are two things you might call principles here. The first is that people like your friend ought to get vaccinated because it contributes to the common good. Even if you’ve had Covid, vaccination further lowers your chances of reinfection and helps slow the spread of the disease. This is a practice that we all benefit from and that we should do our fair share to sustain. That’s a principle I agree with.

When our friends do something wrong, our aim should be to encourage them to do better, not to make them indignant or resentful.

The second principle is that one shouldn’t dine with people who ignore principles like the first one. For you, this is mainly an expressive act. Your friend must know that you think she’s mistaken; refusing to dine with her is presumably a way to underline your disagreement. You would be a better judge than I am of whether this is likely to encourage her to get vaccinated as well — or whether you would be damaging your friendship to no effect. That matters, because when our friends do something wrong, our aim should be to encourage them to do better, not to make them indignant or resentful.

Another approach might be more effective. Vaccines don’t always work well in people who are immunocompromised. If you feel safe, I hope it’s because your doctor was able to make that assessment in your case. Still, even if the risks to you are low, they would be even lower if she were vaccinated, too. Asking her to get vaccinated for your sake might be more effective than telling her that you so disapprove of her position that you don’t want to spend time in her company.

I am a teacher at a public elementary school. I taught in person last year and was vaccinated as soon as the shots were available to teachers. I’m now eligible for a booster, based on the C.D.C.’s decision to allow teachers to get a third shot. However, I’m on sabbatical and not interacting with large groups of children. I am 49 and quite healthy overall. Would it be ethical for me to get a booster shot? I’m eager to protect myself, as well as those around me, but I am unsure if getting the booster would prevent someone who is needier from getting one. Miriam, New York

Get the booster: There is a reasonable rule in place, and under that rule, you are eligible. Given the widespread availability of the vaccine here, you won’t be depriving someone in greater need of it. And plenty of people who are less in need than you — including young, healthy teachers in their 20s — will be getting the booster. I can’t help adding that your letter presents a painful paradox: While some people may forgo a jab because they care so much about the larger community, others skip getting vaccinated because they don’t care enough.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to [email protected]; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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