Mandatory vaccination and ethics

The ethical principle of autonomy, one that is widely used for guiding the professional conduct of health care workers, is relevant in the issue of COVID-19 vaccination. While utilitarianism would suggest that mandating vaccination among health workers will bring about the greatest good for the largest number of people, this could affect respect for autonomy. Autonomy focuses on one’s right to self-determination and it argues that competent and informed individuals have the right to make their own decisions, including the right to ACCEPT or REJECT a health intervention. Mandatory vaccination, especially among health workers, could force people to receive a vaccine that might not be safe and efficacious. Hence, strong justification based on evidence is warranted.

Vaccination is needed to reduce transmission of and deaths due to COVID-19. However, there is a pressing need to weigh in and consider ethical principles that are central to the practice of health care workers. Most of the health workers I know are informed and know their right to health and information. It’s not about the brand, the country, or the company. More importantly, this isn’t about vaccine hesitancy. This is really about the lack (or absence) of transparency.

Imposing mandatory vaccination without the ethical groundwork and reliable evidence to support the risk/benefit profile of a vaccine will definitely encounter resistance from the people. Thus, hospital administrators and the government should carefully evaluate any information on COVID-19 vaccines and reflect on the possible consequences of their decisions in the context of ethics. After all, health workers’ moral and professional duty to protect their patients will always prevail. Given enough and reliable evidence, I trust that health workers will present themselves to be vaccinated.


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