Vaccination is a form of artificial active immunity. This is when the production of the bodies own antibodies is stimulated by an outside source, an immune response is induced through injetcion of a dead or inactive form of a pathogen to stimualte antibody produciton. In the majority of cases this prevents an individual from suffering from the symptoms of the disease.
Vaccination leads to the production of memory cells from B Cells, these memory cells remain in the blood after infection and allow for a greater, more rapid response to future infection with the pathogen. This means that in the future if infected the body will be quickly be able to destroy the pathogen preventing the individual from the full extent of the symptoms.
However, vaccination may not eliminate disease in those with defective immune systems, where individuals may develop the disease and go on to infect those around them. In addition, pathogens mutuate so frequently, that by the time a vaccine is created, it may be rendered ineffective. This mutuation involves the changing of viral antigens as new antigens on the surface of a virus will not be recognised by the vaccine, this is known as antigenic variability.
In some cases, individuals may reject vaccination due to religious, ethical or even medical reasons. This occured with the MMR vaccine, which eventually led to a large number of infant deaths, due to a public scare created by a lack of knowledge and understanding.
This being said, if someone does reject a vaccine, should we be able to force them to have the vaccine? Those who are not vaccinated make the world more dangerous for those in the community at a high risk – children, the terminally ill and the elderly. By enforcing vacciantion, those who are physically unable to have the vaccine will be to some extent protected from being infected by unvaccination individuals. But, is this not a direct violation of human rights? Everyone should be able to choose whether ot not they themselves or those in their care should be vaccinated.
The ability to opt out of vaccination isn ot the only ethical issue that surrounds vaccination, another issue is the testing of vaccines. At present the production and development is tested on animals such as mice, and after this human trials are used. To what extent should a person be asked to accept such a risk for public health? In most cases, the first few screenings and attempts at vacciantion lead to a large array of different side effects. Animal testing has always been a taboo subject, but since vaccines are so essential, shouldn’t we use the Earth’s resources to protect out own species, or is this simply the selfish nature of the human race? Another problem with the trialing of vaccines is the uknown health risks posed to the wider community. In countries that are rife with a particular disease is it morally acceptable to trial a new vaccine with unkown health risks even if the country will gain a lot if the trial is succesful.
In addition, many argue that vaccination programmes are too expensive to be carried out fully. A vaccination programme requires a sufficient quantity of the vaccine to be produces, trained staff for administration, a means of producing, storing and transporting the vaccine. Surely, if most of the population has had the vaccine and the disease is mostly eradicated, the money should be used to treat other diseases? However, this leaves those who are not vaccinated susceptible.
Finally, some individuals may be unable to have a vaccine due to personal health risks, but should every single health risk be taken into account when producing a vaccine for the whole population. Which diseases are we required to accomodate for? Surely, the aim should be to vaccinate as large of a proportion of the population as possible.
In conclusion, the ethics surrounding vaccination has always been an area of interest in the wider community. The need to balance the advantages to the health of the population with economic, social and ethical views has proven to be difficult no matter which way you look at the issue.