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The Case for Vaccination

Despite the spread misinformation, vaccines remain essential for children.

Campus News  |  Nov 2, 2017  |  By Jonathan Rhodes Lee
Editor's Note: 

Johan Bester is an assistant professor of family medicine and director of bioethics He will present  Measles Vaccination vs Herd Immunity at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Marjorie Barrick Museum as part of the University Forum lecture series. Here, Bester examines the pitfalls of relying on herd immunity.

Vaccinations are among the greatest achievements of modern medicine, and have saved countless lives. Yet, even since vaccinations were discovered, some people opposed them. To this day there remains a vocal group of people who strongly oppose childhood vaccination.

I first became interested in the ethics of vaccination when I was a medical student. Some of my nonmedical friends had become convinced that vaccines were harmful, persuaded by the anti-vaccine messaging on the internet, on social media, and voiced by prominent celebrities. I wanted to know the truth for myself, and started finding out what I could.  The more I read about vaccines, the more interested I became. Eventually it became an area of serious study, to the point that my doctoral dissertation focused on the ethics of measles vaccination. I’ve published a number of articles on measles vaccine ethics since.

I’ve learned that measles vaccination is incredibly safe, effective, and cost-effective. It saves lives, prevents disease, and betters society. But even more importantly, I’ve found that vaccination is undoubtedly best for a child. This last point is particularly meaningful to parents and to clinicians who provide medical care to children.

Some clinicians and parents may think it best for an individual child to forego vaccination, and rely on herd immunity to protect the child instead. This way the child is protected because everyone else in the population (the “herd”) are already immune to the disease.  The chance of the child coming into contact with the disease is very low. At the same time, the child does not run the risk of a vaccine’s potentially adverse effects.

If this way of thinking is correct, parents and clinicians would be duty-bound to forego vaccination.

But this argument is not successful, and would have disastrous consequences for society and for the individual child. There are two main reasons for this. First, vaccination protects children better than herd immunity does. Herd immunity is not always reliable, and does not provide the same level of protection as vaccination does. Second, this argument is self-defeating. It would inevitably lead to disease outbreaks.

Vaccination is undoubtedly best for children, unless there is a good medical reason why a child should not be vaccinated. Parents and clinicians are obligated to provide timely vaccination. Those who want what is best for children are duty-bound to support and provide childhood vaccinations.