Beneficence, Paternalism, and the Parental Prerogative – the Ethics of Mandatory Early Childhood Vaccination

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Insufficient vaccination coverage is an important public health problem in many countries, since it leads to the loss of herd protection and the resurgence of previously exterminated diseases. However, policies of mandatory childhood vaccination capable of raising vaccination rates continue to be controversial. In this article I review the arguments for mandatory childhood vaccination, setting out the strongest teleological argument in favour, and then critically examining the two strongest potential objections: paternalism and the parental prerogative. I argue that the challenge of paternalism fails because it confuses the identities of those subject to restricted liberty and those who autonomously dissent, and because non-vaccination imposes risks on others. I argue that the challenge of a parental prerogative fails because it cannot be intuitively or theoretically supported in a form that would make it permissible to impose risks on others. I conclude that in lieu of further and more plausible objections at least some policies of mandatory childhood vaccination are morally permissible.
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Archival date: 2019-07-09
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