The invention of vaccinations is often regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine. No other medical intervention has single-handedly saved as many lives or improved quality of life as much. However, recent responses to the growing anti-vaccination movement have opened up questions regarding the level of autonomy that we, as individuals, have over our own bodies and medical interventions.
Italy recently introduced a new law following a 10 fold increase in the number of children contracting measles in April 2017, compared to the previous year. Known as the Lorenzin law, children must now receive 10 mandatory vaccines covering various diseases before attending school. Children aged 6 and under will be excluded from nursery and kindergarten without proof of vaccination. Older children won’t be banned from school but their parents risk receiving a €500 fine if they send their children to school without the appropriate vaccinations.
This controversial law comes in a bid to raise the country’s plummeting vaccination rates from below 80% to the World Health Organization’s target of 95%. This latter figure represents the percentage of people that need to be vaccinated in order to protect the population as a whole and prevent outbreaks of contagious diseases. A vaccination rate of 95% should provide “herd immunity”. This term is based on the belief that if enough people in a population are vaccinated, the remaining minority will in turn be protected.
Being too young, having a weakened immune system or being allergic to ingredients contained in a vaccination are all reasons why certain members of a population may be unable to receive vaccinations. It is these people who rely on herd immunity to avoid otherwise preventable infectious diseases. However, are these grounds substantial enough to impose mandatory vaccinations on the rest of the population?
An increasing number of parents would argue that they are not. These members of the growing anti-vaccination movement are reluctant to have their children vaccinated for fear that it will result in unwanted, and potentially fatal, side effects. As a result, they often strongly believe that whether their children are vaccinated or not is their decision, and should not be determined by the government.
Furthermore, there are certain members of the population that may wish to withhold from receiving vaccinations for religious reasons. The use of animal-derived gelatine and human fetus tissue pose the largest concerns here. Imposing mandatory vaccinations on these individuals could go against deeply embedded religious beliefs and remove their sense of autonomy.
With all of these various stances in mind, the ethical implications of mandatory vaccinations is certainly open for debate. Whatever your beliefs are, it should be remembered that the decision to get vaccinated or not is one that has consequences for the rest of the population.
This article is the second part of a two part series on the anti-vaccination movement. To read the first instalment please click here.
Here at Infonetica we have been developing systems to manage the ethical review process for over ten years. With the ethics debate widening, our Ethics Review Manager (ERM) software can manage the processing of ethical decisions for a wide range of organisations.
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