The Ethics Of Vaccination

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.




Vaccination is the appropriate addition of disease antigens into the body through injection or by mouth, in order to stimulate an immune response against a disease. The introduced material is called a vaccine.

The antigens, which are small proteins on the surface of cells, stimulate an immune response, producing memory cells. This results in the rapid production of antibodies which mean that the next time someone encounters the disease they may not even experience any symptoms.

Immunisation can save lives and lead to herd immunity which eventually leads to the eradication of the disease. Despite, apprehensions, vaccinations are in fact incredibly safe and effective. Around 15 years ago, millions of parents were caught in a fear mongering scandal which hinted at an idea that vaccination lead to autism in children of around 2-5 years old. However, in reality there was very little evidence of them actually being linked. Serious side effects are rare, however can occur. Immunisation aids to protect future generations from the diseases we suffer from today, for example, the smallpox vaccination has lead to the eradication of the diseases world wide.

Other reservations of vaccination, excluding fear of autism, include the fact that testing is carried out on animals such as mice and in some cases involves inducing cancer in some of the mice. This animal testing usually leads to the death of the mammal. Many vaccinations are also accompanied by unknown side effects which in some cases are only picked up upon when the vaccination is fed to the masses. It can also be very difficult to produce enough vaccinations for the population, whilst also being cost effective.