Bioethics Blogs

Vaccines and the Ethics of Parental Choice

Ubaka Ogbogu argues that vaccinating a child against illness is in the child’s best interest and should be the default norm.


There has been much discussion lately regarding the resurgence of vaccine-preventable childhood infectious diseases and the problems of anti-vaccination and vaccine hesitancy. These discussions were triggered, in part, by a number of recent events: (1) an outbreak of measles at Disneyland; (2) Roald Dahl’s heartrending essay recalling the loss of his seven-year old daughter Olivia to measles, and in which he urged parents to get their children immunized; and (3) the comments of US politicians like Rand Paul, who think that vaccines should be resisted based largely on conspiracy theories and the idea that individuals have the right to choose not to be vaccinated.

Vaccine proponents (like myself) have argued that vaccinations are essential to promote community welfare. We have appealed to scientific evidence, which indisputably shows that recommended childhood vaccines are generally safe and effective. Scientific evidence also shows that a sufficient number of children need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. We have advocated for a robust and routine program of mandatory vaccinations sans religious or personal exemptions.

Vaccine opponents have countered by questioning the science behind childhood vaccines or by referencing a right to be exempted from forced medical intervention that interferes with personal beliefs and preferences. Among those who oppose vaccines lies the assumption that parents have an automatic and unassailable right to make decisions regarding vaccination on behalf of their children. From this it follows that taking away that right is as a violation of the parent’s liberty or participatory interests.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.