Journal of Medical Ethics – December 2016, Volume 42, Issue 12

Journal of Medical Ethics
December 2016, Volume 42, Issue 12

Extended essay
Victims, vectors and villains: are those who opt out of vaccination morally responsible for the deaths of others?
Euzebiusz Jamrozik, Toby Handfield, Michael J Selgelid
J Med Ethics 2016;42:762-768 Published Online First: 3 October 2016 doi:10.1136/medethics-2015-103327
Mass vaccination has been a successful public health strategy for many contagious diseases. The immunity of the vaccinated also protects others who cannot be safely or effectively vaccinated—including infants and the immunosuppressed. When vaccination rates fall, diseases like measles can rapidly resurge in a population. Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons are at the highest risk of severe disease and death. They thus may bear the burden of others’ freedom to opt out of vaccination. It is often asked whether it is legitimate for states to adopt and enforce mandatory universal vaccination. Yet this neglects a related question: are those who opt out, where it is permitted, morally responsible when others are harmed or die as a result of their decision? In this article, we argue that individuals who opt out of vaccination are morally responsible for resultant harms to others. Using measles as our main example, we demonstrate the ways in which opting out of vaccination can result in a significant risk of harm and death to others, especially infants and the immunosuppressed. We argue that imposing these risks without good justification is blameworthy and examine ways of reaching a coherent understanding of individual moral responsibility for harms in the context of the collective action required for disease transmission. Finally, we consider several objections to this view, provide counterarguments and suggest morally permissible alternatives to mandatory universal vaccination including controlled infection, self-imposed social isolation and financial penalties for refusal to vaccinate.


Research ethics
Paper: Deciphering assumptions about stepped wedge designs: the case of Ebola vaccine research
Adélaïde Doussau, Christine Grady
J Med Ethics 2016;42:797-804 Published Online First: 17 October 2016 doi:10.1136/medethics-2015-103292
Ethical concerns about randomising persons to a no-treatment arm in the context of Ebola epidemic led to consideration of alternative designs. The stepped wedge (SW) design, in which participants or clusters are randomised to receive an intervention at different time points, gained popularity. Common arguments in favour of using this design are (1) when an intervention is likely to do more good than harm, (2) all participants should receive the experimental intervention at some time point during the study and (3) the design might be preferable for practical reasons. We examine these assumptions when considering Ebola vaccine research. First, based on the claim that a stepped wedge design is indicated when it is likely that the intervention will do more good than harm, we reviewed published and ongoing SW trials to explore previous use of this design to test experimental drugs or vaccines, and found that SW design has never been used for trials of experimental drugs or vaccines. Given that Ebola vaccines were all experimental with no prior efficacy data, the use of a stepped wedge design would have been unprecedented. Second, we show that it is rarely true that all participants receive the intervention in SW studies, but rather, depending on certain design features, all clusters receive the intervention. Third, we explore whether the SW design is appealing for feasibility reasons and point out that there is significant complexity. In the setting of the Ebola epidemic, spatiotemporal variation may have posed problematic challenge