Roles of genetics and blood type in clinical responses to COVID-19: ethical and policy concerns

Klitzman, Robert L.

Recently, several genetic variants have been associated with increased or decreased risks of becoming infected and/or seriously ill with COVID-19—not only offering important potential medical benefits but also posing critical ethical questions. These genetic factors, some of which are associated with blood type, may account for variations in observed responses to COVID-19. Hence, assessments of these genetic differences and blood type could provide possible benefits in gauging patients’ risks of disease acquisition and prioritising allocation of interventions or vaccines, if supplies are limited. The media has widely reported these findings, and people online are now discussing their blood type and its possible effects on their COVID-19 risks, but several ethical concerns arise. Individuals possessing genetic variants or blood types associated with lower risk may engage in ’risk compensation’, erroneously assuming that they can protect themselves less, and hence less frequently wearing masks or washing hands. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many physicians, hospitals, patients, policymakers, members of the public, testing companies and others may well consider these factors in making critical prevention/treatment decisions. Researchers, providers and others should thus begin to address these concerns. Increased awareness and education aimed at providers, patients, family members, public health officials, political leaders and the public-at- large are critical. Attitudinal research is vital to examine how providers, patients and the public understand these findings. Ethical frameworks and guidelines are needed, addressing whether such genetic information should be incorporated into decisions regarding allocation of scarce resources—including hospital and ICU beds, ventilators, medications (eg, remdesivir) and vaccines—and if so, how.


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Journal of Medical Ethics

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Published Here
April 19, 2021