The moral obligation to be vaccinated: utilitarianism, contractualism, and collective easy rescue

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 21 (4):547-560 (2018)

Abstract

We argue that individuals who have access to vaccines and for whom vaccination is not medically contraindicated have a moral obligation to contribute to the realisation of herd immunity by being vaccinated. Contrary to what some have claimed, we argue that this individual moral obligation exists in spite of the fact that each individual vaccination does not significantly affect vaccination coverage rates and therefore does not significantly contribute to herd immunity. Establishing the existence of a moral obligation to be vaccinated despite the negligible contribution each vaccination can make to the realisation of herd immunity is important because such moral obligation would strengthen the justification for coercive vaccination policies. We show that two types of arguments—namely a utilitarian argument based on Parfit’s Principle of Group Beneficence and a contractualist argument—can ground an individual moral obligation to be vaccinated, in spite of the imperceptible contribution that any single vaccination makes to vaccine coverage rates. We add a further argument for a moral obligation to be vaccinated that does not require embracing problematic comprehensive moral theories such as utilitarianism or contractualism. The argument is based on a “duty of easy rescue” applied to collectives, which grounds a collective moral obligation to realise herd immunity, and on a principle of fairness in the distribution of the burdens that must be borne to realise herd immunity.

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Author Profiles

Julian Savulescu
Oxford University
Alberto Giubilini
Università degli Studi di Milano (PhD)
Thomas Douglas
Oxford University

References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Oxford University Press USA.
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.

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