Vaccination policy and ethical challenges posed by herd immunity, suboptimal uptake and subgroup targeting
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Public health ethics
, p. 280-291
University of Antwerp
Vaccination policy is an ethically challenging domain of public policy. It is a matter of collective importance that reaches into the most private sphere of citizens and unavoidably conflicts with individual-based ethics. Policy makers need to walk a tight rope in order to complement utilitarian public health values with individual autonomy rights, protection of privacy, non-discrimination and protection of the worst-off. Whether vaccination is voluntary or compulsory, universal or targeted, every option faces complex ethical hurdles because of the interdependence of humans in infectious disease matters. In this article, we explore the following three policy questions. (i) Ethically, which policy measures should be addressed when vaccination coverage is insufficient in a population? Information campaigns, legal compulsion, or the use of financial incentives can all be effective, but also controversial policy options. (ii) Is it ethical to target vaccination programs at certain risk-groups? If such measures are necessary, we argue that policymakers will often have to decide which is more important to uphold: non-discrimination or the protection of privacy. And (iii), what is the ethical significance of adverse herd immunity effects? Some vaccination programs will improve average population health, but will at the same time increase the risk of severe morbidity and mortality for individuals in the worst-off groups of society.