Immunisation presents an interesting ethical dilemma.

This is because, to be effective most people need to be immunised.  If most people aren’t immunised there is no point in any one of us doing it.

If most people are immunised then it doesn’t make a difference if any one of us does or doesn’t do it.

This is especially a dilemma for parents.  Even if we will take the risk of not being immunised, or being immunised, for ourselves what about our children.  After all immunisation isn’t completely risk free.  A very small percentage of people will have adverse reactions and a very few of these will have serious and permanent health problems as a result.

This goes to the heart of our nature as humans – that we are social-individuals.

Immunisation asks us each to take a (very small) risk for the benefit of all of us.  And it asks all of us to do this – not just some (or there is no point doing it).

One problem, as I see it, is that the benefits are invisible.
Imagine if every time you went into the street about every tenth person had a withered limb of some kind.  Then imagine that the next day all these withered limbs disappeared.  This would be incredibly striking.  If you were to step back fifty years or so – before vaccination for polio this is what you would have seen.  We don’t see it now, but this doesn’t (can’t really) register with us.  The effect of the vaccination is invisible, all we see are healthy people and this is quite usual.

I think this dilemma can’t be solved with our normal (individualistic) way of thinking about the choices we make.  I think it goes straight to the heart of our assumptions about ourselves, our relationships and how we do our ethics.

2 Comments to “Immunisation and Ethics”

  1. Simonne says:

    This is something like insurance: it stays invisible until disaster strikes. However, many of us buy insurance for our cars, homes and lives. I suppose the same goes for immunisation.

  2. Evan says:

    Thanks Simone.

    Yes, just like insurance I think. A good analogy, thanks.


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