Solidarity, Responsibility and Obligation in Response to COVID-19

March 25, 2021

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Cambridge University
Cambridge University

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We are pleased to announce a one-day workshop with talks from Barbara Prainsack (Vienna), John Coggon (Bristol), and Jessica Flanigan (Richmond). This workshop is part of a larger project on "Rethinking the Ethics of Vaccination" project, funded by the British Academy and hosted at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, 

This workshop addresses ethical tensions around notions of solidarity and responsibility which have arisen in responses to COVID-19. During the pandemic, the young have had their freedoms restricted mainly for the sake of helping older members of society. As vaccinations are rolled out, there have been questions about whether a strategy of protecting the most vulnerable is the most efficient or effective guide to distributing scarce resources. To a large extent, however, public discourse has tended to downplay the societal tensions inherent in pandemic response. Instead, steps to guard against infection have been presented as both acts of self-interest and civic virtue: in “protecting the NHS” we are both protecting ourselves and others; in not taking a vaccine, we are both acting “irrationally” and posing a threat to others, whether directly, through transmission, or indirectly, through using scarce social resources. Do we have a responsibility not to transmit COVID-19, and how does this relate to proper policy response? How does this responsibility relate to the “opportunity costs” of using scarce social resources? How should we understand the relationships between generations? Are notions of solidarity an important ethical resource, or ways of hiding the tensions inherent in policy? This workshop brings together leading scholars in public health law, ethics and political science to discuss these issues.


10:30 Start

10:45 John Coggon

Lord Sumption and the Values of Life, Liberty, and Security: Before and Since the COVID-19 Outbreak

12:00 Barbara Prainsack

The Pandemic Within Us: Solidarity during COVID-19

13:15 Break

14:00 Jessica Flanigan 

COVID-19 safety vs. freedom – do we have to choose?

15:15 Discussion

15:30 End

Titles of talks will be released closer to the date of the workshop. Zoom links will be emailed to those who register for the event. 

This event is part of a series of workshops at the University of Cambridge on 'The New Ethics of Vaccination'. Further planned events include workshops on:

Uncertainty, Decision and Policy (15th April)

Vaccine Hesitancy (28th April)

Populations and Individuals (12th May)

What Counts? Who Counts? (1st June)

For further information on the planned events, get in touch with the organisers, Stephen John or Emma Curran (

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March 24, 2021, 7:00pm BST

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