A Scalar Approach to Vaccination Ethics

The Journal of Ethics 28 (1):145-169 (2023)
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Should people get vaccinated for the sake of others? What could ground—and limit—the normative claim that people ought to do so? In this paper, we propose a reasons-based consequentialist account of vaccination for the benefit of others. We outline eight harm-based and probabilistic factors that, we argue, give people moral reasons to get vaccinated. Instead of understanding other-directed vaccination in terms of binary moral duties (i.e., where people either have or do not have a moral duty to get vaccinated), we develop a scalar approach according to which people can have stronger or weaker moral reasons to get vaccinated in view of the moral good of vaccination. One advantage of our approach is that it can capture why a person might have strong moral reasons to get vaccinated with Vaccine A, but only weak moral reasons to get vaccinated with Vaccine B. We discuss theoretical strengths of our approach and provide a case study of vaccination against COVID-19 to demonstrate its practical significance.

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