Personal Responsibility: To Vaccinate or Not?
The necessity of vaccination has been a controversial ethical issue since the invention of vaccines. On the one hand, getting vaccinated is an individual choice that a person must make by oneself. This point of view reflects the personal right to freedom and liberty of decision-making when it comes to issues of one’s well-being and invasion into one’s body and health. On the other hand, the requirement for vaccination is driven by the need to protect the population. Vaccination helps build herd immunity and prevents the spread of infectious diseases, potentially saving many lives. Both of these positions correspond to some ethical principles in the context of individual liberty or public health. Nonetheless, none of them can conform to all existing moral principles because they somehow interfere with ethics. This paper aims to investigate ethical concepts in the context of vaccination due to the COVID-19 outbreak and connect choices, actions, and consequences to ethical decision-making. Even though mandatory vaccination interferes with individual freedom, it appears more ethically correct than not vaccinating, considering the current concerning situation worldwide.
Understanding Ethical Issues
Ethical principles are concepts of right and wrong behavior, moral values, societal norms that aim to establish a favorable environment for the population. Ethical issues occur when the current situation interferes with moral principles and potentially harms individuals or society. Vaccination is mainly related to such ethical concepts as nonmaleficence, beneficence, and autonomy. Nonmaleficence means not to harm, and beneficence seeks for increasing goods. Both these principles are applicable in the current topic since vaccination leads to harm prevention and herd immunity, which can be considered public good (Giubilini, 2021). Public goods are characterized as “non-excludable and non-rivalrous in consumption”, leading to individuals’ benefits regardless of their contribution (Giubilini, 2021, p. 6). However, vaccination may interfere with the principle of nonmaleficence since “the existing vaccination technology is not risk-free” and can result in harm for vaccinated individuals (Kowalik, 2021). Autonomy implies self-governance, the right to one’s liberties, decisions, and the right to refuse any medical procedures. This principle is mainly affected considering vaccination ethics related to individual freedom; still, there is so-called the harm principle, meaning that freedom may be restricted to prevent harm to others.
Understanding Choices and Actions
Thus, when individuals decide to be vaccinated or not, they face particular ethical controversies and need to prioritize themselves or the population. By choosing to vaccinate, they fulfill their moral duty to society by contributing to public goods and further harm prevention but may put their health at risk. By refusing vaccination, individuals defend their rights to free decision-making, avoid potential vaccination harm, simultaneously exposing others to risk and interfering with the development of herd immunity.
When choosing to vaccinate or not, you need to consider the consequences of your decision-making. Vaccination helps achieve herd immunity, which leads to a gradual decrease in the number of cases and victims of COVID-19 (Giubilini, 2021). Another positive consequence of vaccination is a personal gain that is consistent with the principle of autonomy. A vaccinated individual is less likely to get sick, and if infected, it is easier to undergo the disease. According to Giubilini (2021), the “factor that affects the strength of the ethical considerations above is the effectiveness of a vaccine at stopping transmission” (p.10). Together with the achievement of herd immunity and stopping virus transmission, the risk of the emergence of new strains of COVID-19 is reduced. All these consequences contribute to population wellbeing in line with moral and ethical principles.
In addition, the provision of herd immunity is essential for people who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons. However, personal risks are also worth mentioning: “the fact, that an immunodeficient person is more at risk than others, does not oblige anyone else to take on more risk for that person’s benefit”. Considering that the coronavirus outbreak was spontaneous, vaccines were urgently developed, and it is difficult to judge the long-term health effects of these vaccines. Vaccination puts the individual’s health at risk, driving public health to be prioritized over the individual’s. Nonetheless, refusal to vaccinate has many unfortunate consequences, such as increasing the risk of infecting others, stimulating the emergence of new, more aggressive strains of the virus, and slowing the pace of the global fight against the disease. According to Giubilini et al. (2021), ethical considerations “can legitimately slow down vaccine development”, which, in turn, result in “avoidable deaths”. The anti-vaccine movement has the potential to worsen the coronavirus situation and reduce the rate of overcoming the disease. Thus, there are many consequences of vaccination or non-vaccination decisions related to ethical principles, but non-vaccination consequences appear mainly unethical and less moral.
Getting vaccinated or not interferes with either public health or individual freedom, therefore raising multiple ethical issues. For making a proper moral decision, it is essential to understand the ethical principles related to this topic, such as autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence. Both points of view have their moral advantages and drawbacks. Any decision has its consequences, though non-vaccination results in more harmful ethical issues globally.
Giubilini, A., Minerva, F., Schuklenk, U., & Savulescu, J. (2021). The ‘ethical’COVID-19 vaccine is the one that preserves lives: Religious and moral beliefs on the COVID-19 vaccine. Public Health Ethics. Web.
Giubilini, A. (2021). Vaccination ethics. British Medical Bulletin, 137(1), 4-12. Web.
Kowalik, M. (2021). Ethics of vaccine refusal. Journal of Medical Ethics. Web.