Tag: vaccine-preventable diseases

Ethics and Vaccines

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?”

Questions about ethics often come up when Dr. Bob talks about vaccines.
Questions about ethics often come up when Dr. Bob talks about vaccines.

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:

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