DOI: 10.1177/00243639231213515 ISSN: 0024-3639

Vaccine Mandates: Weighing the Common Good vs Personal Conscience and Autonomy

Cynthia Jones-Nosacek
  • Health Policy
  • Philosophy

COVID-19 is a serious illness with significant morbidity and mortality. Vaccines to immunize against it were developed in record time. Mandates followed. The question to be considered is when mandates are ethical. Mandates can be used to prevent spread of an infection, prevent overwhelming the healthcare system, or protect public safety, thereby protecting the vulnerable and allowing for full flourishing of the common good. At the same time, one must be careful about respecting autonomy by allowing those who consciences do not allow them to be vaccinated to refuse. Because COVID-19 knowledge is rapidly changing as more information is known and the virus mutates, the conditions under which mandates are ethical change as well. At present, since vaccines prevent severe infection and death in high-risk individuals with added benefit for those who are vaccinated and have a history of infection, mandates can be imposed on those individuals. With an estimated 95% of the US population believed to have been infected and prior history of infection shown to be as effective as vaccination, with immunity lasting at least 500 days, and ability to prevent spread unknown at present but limited at best in the past, the vaccines therefore cannot be ethically mandated for those who are low risk for the versions released September 2023 based on information as of October 2023.

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