Abstract: We seem to have very demanding obligations to protect the vulnerable in pandemics. Why? In this paper, I examine many of the most promising explanations and find them wanting. I argue that our demanding obligations can be explained as the premium we pay to insure against a sudden and significant event, of which the current pandemic is just one instance. In short, our obligations in public health emergencies, such as the pandemic, are best understood as an informal insurance scheme. Since we are all vulnerable, the stakes are significant, and help is urgent in these situations; everyone would ex ante benefit from norms that dictate that we prioritise solving the pandemic, although they ex post must accept very demanding obligations. This theory explains why it is not unfair that young should bear burdens to protect the old and to what extent our obligations change when pandemics become endemic and frequent.
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