Taking Risks to Protect Others-Pediatric Vaccination and Moral Responsibility

Public Health Ethics. 2023 May 4;16(2):127-138. doi: 10.1093/phe/phad005. eCollection 2023 Jul.


The COVID-19 pandemic during 2020-2022 raised ethical questions concerning the balance between individual autonomy and the protection of the population, vulnerable individuals and the healthcare system. Pediatric COVID-19 vaccination differs from, for example, measles vaccination in that children were not as severely affected. The main question concerning pediatric vaccination has been whether the autonomy of parents outweighs the protection of the population. When children are seen as mature enough to be granted autonomy, questions arise about whether they have the right to decline vaccination and who should make the decision when parents disagree with each other and/or the child. In this paper, I argue that children should be encouraged to not only take responsibility for themselves, but for others. The discussion of pediatric vaccination in cases where this kind of risk-benefit ratio exists extends beyond the 2020-2022 pandemic. The pandemic entailed a question that is crucial for the future of public health as a global problem, that is, to what extent children should be seen as responsible decision-makers who are capable of contributing to its management and potential solution. I conclude that society should encourage children to cultivate such responsibility, conceived as a virtue, in the context of public health.