A lot of ethical issues come up around discussions of vaccines and vaccination.
Of course, when you talk about ethics and vaccines, you shouldn’t just think about vaccine mandates and informed consent, but also about the ethics of skipping or delaying vaccines and putting others at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease.
And there are also ethical issues around spreading misinformation and propaganda about vaccines (misinformed consent) to scare people away from getting vaccinated and protected.
Ethics and Vaccines
Does it surprise you that many folks don’t actually understand what the real ethical issues are in the “vaccine debate?”
To begin with, there is no real vaccine debate.
Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.
“But how can anything with known side effects be forced, knowing some will definitely be harmed?”Dr. Bob Sears
Dr. Bob’s statement helps illustrate why this isn’t a debate.
No one is forced to get vaccinated.
And how can you say that “some will definitely be harmed” without defining what some actually means?
Severe reactions to vaccines are very rare. Fortunately, they are even more rare than the risks of a complication from a vaccine-preventable disease. And that’s why the great majority of people choose (they aren’t forced) to vaccinate and protect their kids.
Remember, a vaccine mandate that says you have to be vaccinated to attend daycare or school does not force anyone to get vaccinated. Folks still have a choice to not get vaccinated, even without access to non-medical vaccine exemptions, although they might not like what that choice entails, such as homeschooling or not being able to attend daycare or summer camp.
What about the idea of community responsibility?
Should you vaccinate your child just to protect everyone else in the community or should you just try to hide in the herd?
“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”The National Catholic Bioethics Center FAQ on the Use of Vaccines
Of course you should vaccinate them. But in getting them vaccinated and protected, you are not just protecting everyone else in the community. Getting vaccinated also protects your own child!
Similarly, when you skip or delay your child’s vaccines, it is not just your own child that is put at risk. If they get sick, especially since many vaccine-preventable diseases have long incubation periods and you can be contagious before you show symptoms, they can expose others and get them sick too. Where’s their choice?
If the people they expose are too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated and protected, or anyone with a problem with their immune system, the results can be tragic.
Is it ethical that someone decides to skip or delay their child’s vaccines and then, through no fault of their own, someone else dies after getting exposed to this unvaccinated child when they develop measles or chicken pox?
Remember the measles outbreaks of 2015? In addition to the large Disney Land measles outbreak, 2015 was infamous for a smaller outbreak in Clallam County.
“The death of a Clallam County woman this spring was due to an undetected measles infection that was discovered at autopsy. The woman was most likely exposed to measles at a local medical facility during a recent outbreak in Clallam County. She was there at the same time as a person who later developed a rash and was contagious for measles. The woman had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system. She didn’t have some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, so the infection wasn’t discovered until after her death. The cause of death was pneumonia due to measles. This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles.”Measles led to death of Clallam Co. woman
There were five measles cases in that 2015 Clallam County, Washington outbreak, including four who were not vaccinated. The outbreak cost at least $223,223 to contain and led to the death of a woman who just happened to be at a health clinic as one of the infected people.
Want to dismiss this case as being too rare to worry about? Just look at what is happening across Europe, with the rise in measles cases and measles deaths over the last few years.
Ethically, why should you vaccinate?
That’s easy, so that your kids don’t get a life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease. And so that they don’t expose others, potentially giving them a life-threatening disease that they are too young to be vaccinated against, couldn’t be vaccinated against because they had a true medical exemption, or were vaccinated against but are still susceptible to because they now have a problem with their immune system.
Are vaccine preventable diseases not common enough for you to be concerned about these days? You know that’s because most folks vaccinate their kids, don’t you? Do we need to go back to the pre-vaccine era before more vaccine-hesitant parents will start vaccinating their kids?
“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book
What about the risks of vaccines?
While vaccines are not 100% safe, they do not cause all of the vaccine injuries and vaccine-induced diseases that anti-vaccine folks push. The real risk is believing their propaganda and leaving your child unvaccinated and unprotected.
“It is UNETHICAL to expect me to sacrifice my child for yours—especially when I know that sacrifice won’t even stop the disease from spreading. It’s time for people to stop touting their “moral superiority and selflessness” when it comes to this topic; because if you really understood how this all works, there would be nothing for you to be proud of.”Melissa Floyd (she apparently does a podcast with Dr. Bob)
Here is where the misinformed consent comes in and ethics go out the window:
- only if you say everything is a vaccine injury can you begin to imagine that you are sacrificing your child by getting them vaccinated
- although vaccines aren’t 100% effective, they work very well to protect us against disease and keep us from getting others sick, even those vaccines that anti-vaccine folks like to say don’t prevent the spread of diseases
And for the record, few of us think that we are morally superior to anyone else for vaccinating and protecting our kids. We just understand that many anti-vaccine folks are victims of their cognitive biases and need to do more research. And we know that it is UNETHICAL for parents to sacrifice their kids to anti-vaccine propaganda.
More on Ethics and Vaccines
- The Moral Responsibility of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- Where are the Double Blind Placebo Controlled Randomized Trials about Vaccines
- The Moral Outrage of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Takes Advantage of Dead Children and Their Parents
- Abuse of Vaccine Exemptions
- 8 Myths About Pediatricians Who Fire Families Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids
- Vaccine Advocates: Don’t Discriminate Against My Autistic Son
- Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism, But That’s Not The Point. Stop Being Ableist.
- A Pastor’s Perspective: The Moral Case for Getting a Flu Vaccine
- A Death from Measles
- My son has cancer. He can’t go into day care because of unvaccinated children.
- When It’s Not a Choice: Measles and Leukemia
- My Daughters’ Lives Depend on Community Immunity
- A Boy Who Had Cancer Faces Measles Risk From The Unvaccinated
- To the Parent of the Unvaccinated Child Who Exposed My Family to Measles
- Did Children’s Minnesota Expose Cancer Patients to Measles?
- Children with cancer: stories from the 2011 measles outbreaks
- Ethical Issues and Vaccines
- Ethics of Vaccinations Project
- Vaccines and Global Health – Ethics and Policy
- The ethics and morals of vaccination
- AMA – Vaccines and Ethics
- AAP – A 6-Month-Old With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents
- Dismissal of Child-Patients for Nonvaccination Should Not Be Policy
- AAP Policy on Vaccine Hesitancy Glosses Over Real World Solutions
- Considering Whether the Dismissal of Vaccine-Refusing Families Is Fair to Other Clinicians
- National Catholic Bioethics Center FAQ on the Use of Vaccines
- You Can Be the Pro-Life Parent of a Fully Vaccinated Child
- Catholics urged to remember ‘common good’ in vaccine debate
- Anti-vaccine misinformation denies children’s rights
- Revoke the license of any doctor who opposes vaccination
- There is no other side to the vaccine debate
- The Moral Failure of HPV Vaccination
- What Should Docs Do With Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate?
- Three Ethical Reasons for Vaccinating your Children
- Human Cell Strains in Vaccine Development
- IAC – Vatican Statement on Vaccines Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses
- Cultural Perspectives on Vaccination
- IAC – Talking about Vaccines: Religious Concerns
- IAC – Vaccines and the Right of Conscience
- A moral obligation to vaccinate
- Getting Vaccine a Moral Responsibility
- Getting Vaccinated Is a Moral Obligation
- What are the moral obligations of the traveler in relation to vaccination?
- Vaccine refuseniks are free-riders.
- Article – Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate
- Vaccines: Personal Choice Or Moral Responsibility?
- Study – What the World’s religions teach, applied to vaccines and immune globulins
- The Anti-vaccination Movement: A Regression in Modern Medicine
- The ethical negligence of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children
- Requiring influenza vaccination for health care workers: seven truths we must accept.
- Anti-vaccine warriors vs. research ethics
- The strange science and ethics of the anti-vaccine movement
- Is Firing Vaccine-Hesitant Families Unfair? Definitely…I think.
- Ethics and Childhood Vaccination Policy in the United States
- I was Duped by the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- Measles led to death of Clallam Co. woman
- Fatal measles case linked to exposure at tribal clinic, records show
- Report: Clallam’s measles outbreak price tag comes in at $223,223
2 thoughts on “Ethics and Vaccines”
My question is a simple one: Say the vaccine saves 1000 lives, but in the process kills 1. Is it then ethical to give the vaccine? Is it ethical to, in effect, sacrifice one individual to save 1000?
I think this is a difficult question to answer, and many reasonable people will, for many valid reasons answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.