Ethics and Childhood Vaccination Policy in the United States

Am J Public Health. 2016 Feb;106(2):273-8. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302952. Epub 2015 Dec 21.


Childhood immunization involves a balance between parents' autonomy in deciding whether to immunize their children and the benefits to public health from mandating vaccines. Ethical concerns about pediatric vaccination span several public health domains, including those of policymakers, clinicians, and other professionals. In light of ongoing developments and debates, we discuss several key ethical issues concerning childhood immunization in the United States and describe how they affect policy development and clinical practice. We focus on ethical considerations pertaining to herd immunity as a community good, vaccine communication, dismissal of vaccine-refusing families from practice, and vaccine mandates. Clinicians and policymakers need to consider the nature and timing of vaccine-related discussions and invoke deliberative approaches to policy-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Herd*
  • Infant
  • Pediatrics
  • Treatment Refusal / ethics*
  • Treatment Refusal / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States
  • Vaccination / ethics*
  • Vaccines / administration & dosage


  • Vaccines