Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)


Key Ethical Issues Related to Covid 19 Vaccination: Personal Choice vs. Greater Public Welfare and Informed Consent

Author(s): Akram Almatarneh

Vaccination against various diseases has been widely practised for more than a century and on a more limited scale its use in a variety of forms stretches back far longer. During earlier eras disease spread more slowly along shipping lanes on water and traditional transport routes on land. Today, in an era of air transport, contagion spreads far more rapidly. Travelling far more rapidly (indeed instantaneously) is the spread of misinformation that hinders vaccination which can, in the instance of Covid-19, reduce disease impacts, including rates of severe illness and death. This paper explores the ethical issue of informed consent in the context of the contest between personal choice and the greater public welfare. It also makes reference to a number of low, middle and high income countries where vaccine hesitance, and to a lesser extent refusal, has been fed by misinformation on a scale not previously observed but made possible by the proliferation of modern technology. This campaign of ignorance has further undermined trust in governmental health bodies and their attempts to implement quarantine and other measures such as vaccination that had already been damaged by early variations and vacillation in governmental approaches around the globe due in part to a reluctance by some governments to take actions that would have economic repercussions but also by the necessary evolution of their approaches as more became known about the disease and its variants. The paper examines the historical background and the current situation and finds that more must be done to restore or increase trust levels between citizens and governmental authorities, including the dissemination of high quality accurate information in a form relevant to readers/viewers. While potential side-effects of vaccines must be disclosed to ensure informed consent, their incidence should also be clearly communicated (e.g., in vaccine information statements) so that clients/patients are aware that a risk is 1 in 100 or 1in 1000 or 1 in 2 million etc. Governments are urged to learn from their experience and better prepare for inevitable future pandemics to minimise vaccine hesitancy and refusal and maximise its acceptance where evidence is overwhelming as to the benefit to the community. Informed consent is part of the context of efforts to use vaccination to contain or eradicate any disease. Nevertheless, while better information for clients/patients/consumers may reduce vaccine hesitancy/refusal, it is unlikely that it would but eliminate the need for mandating vaccination in some circumstances for the benefit of the broader community, although strict quarantine of those reluctant to accept it is an alternative but one not generally accepted by those reluctant to be vaccinated. The information war is one that needs to be won to increase the voluntary uptake of vaccination in the context of voluntary informed consent.

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