Vaccine Dilemma

Vaccines protect huge numbers of people, generally children, from serious diseases, but in rare cases, certain vaccines can tragically cause harm. How do those scientists figure out which to value more?

Ethical debates and objections to school and other mandates arise because some individuals and communities disagree with the mandates, and/or have religious or philosophical beliefs that conflict with vaccination.

Sometimes vaccine mandate controversies include multiple and interrelated ethical dilemmas. This is the case for the vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The FDA approved the first HPV vaccine in 2006. After the ACIP recommended three doses of the vaccine for girls aged 11-12, various state legislatures attempted to mandate vaccination. Ethical objections to this mandate have ranged to include religious concerns that a vaccine to protect against an STD contradicts abstinence-based messages; fears that the vaccine could potentially force a child to undergo an intervention misaligned with her family’s beliefs; and human rights questions about the fairness of providing a vaccine to one sex only (though now in the United States the vaccine is recommended for all adolescents.

All 50 states allow vaccination exemptions for medical contraindications; to address individuals’ beliefs and their varied concerns about vaccination, 48 states allow religious exemptions; and 20 states allow exemptions for philosophical reasons.

Despite what some claim, the controversy is not the product of a lunatic fringe, nor does it spring from a lack of adequate education. Some of the most important thinkers of the past two centuries have questioned the value and/or safety of vaccination. Studies have shown the groups who oppose it, just like those who promote it, are characterized by intelligent and well-educated people.