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ZonMW funding for Philosophy project on indirect vaccination

Published on
January 15, 2018

Wageningen philosopher Marcel Verweij, together with legal philosopher Roland Pierik (University of Amsterdam) received ZonMW funding for PhD project on the ethics of indirect vaccination.

Immunization of pregnant women to protect infants against whooping cough. Vaccination of health care workers to protect their patients. Offering HPV vaccination to boys to primarily protect girls against cervical cancer. These are all examples of indirect vaccination: the persons who receive the vaccine are not the ones at highest risk, but their immunization offers protect to specific other persons or to the group at large.

How should we evaluate such vaccinations from an ethical point of view? Should the public health authorities encourage people to accept vaccinations for the sake of other persons?  And if so, what communication strategies are ethically acceptable? These questions are specifically urgent given that, on the one hand the World Health Organization, the Netherlands Health Council and other institutions recommend governments to implement indirect vaccination programs (e.g. against pertussis and influenza). Yet on the other hand there is increasing vaccine hesitancy and resistance in Western countries.

This research project aims to answer these ethical questions. The project specifically looks at maternal immunization, vaccination of health care workers, and vaccinations that primarily contribute to herd immunity and produce little benefits to the vaccines themselves. The project will result in an ethical framework for indirect vaccination programs, and offer recommendations for responsible communication.

The project is a collaboration with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the University of Amsterdam.