The ethical impact of mandating childhood vaccination: The importance of the clinical encounter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Health ethics can justify the use of vaccination mandates. However, policies that pressurize parents to vaccinate their children can undermine traditional clinical ethics standards (e.g. autonomy and informed consent). The aim of this paper is to argue that the ethical impact of vaccination mandates can only be determined in the context of the clinical encounter. Public debate on the topic tends to be general in nature and, as a result, issues that require clarification to help sustain the trust of service users are underexamined. In addition, ethical debates are hampered by a toxic dichotomy in the public sphere between those (anti-vaccinators) who claim a move away from parental choice is necessarily a serious ethical violation; and others (often health scientists) who neglect serious consideration of ethical issues. This predicament permits flawed ethical claims to be made, and to remain unchallenged. Despite this, ethical concerns – including those relating to trust and individual freedom – are fundamental to sustaining confidence in vaccination. This has recently been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic which made accessing childhood vaccinations harder, leading to a further decline in uptake. The pandemic has also revealed the strength of public feeling towards infection control measures that restrict peoples’ freedoms. In this paper I argue that to minimize the ethical disruption associated with the use of vaccination mandates, it is essential to focus more attention on their impact in the clinic and to accurately identify the drivers of such tensions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-277
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Ethics
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • clinical ethics
  • Covid-19
  • informed consent
  • public health
  • Vaccination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy

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