Voluntary COVID-19 vaccination of children: a social responsibility

Journal of Medical Ethics
August 2021 – Volume 47 – 8


COVID-19 current controversies
Voluntary COVID-19 vaccination of children: a social responsibility (11 June, 2021) Free
Margherita Brusa, Yechiel Michael Barilan
Nearly 400 million adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Children have been excluded from the vaccination programmes owing to their lower vulnerability to COVID-19 and to the special protections that apply to children’s exposure to new biological products. WHO guidelines and national laws focus on medical safety in the process of vaccine approval, and on national security in the process of emergency authorisation. Because children suffer much from social distancing, it is argued that the harms from containment measures should be factored in a broader perspective on the good of the child. Considering the available knowledge on the disease, vaccine, and coping strategies, the decision about vaccine access to children is a public responsibility. The ultimate choice is a matter of paediatric informed consent. Moreover, jurisdictions that permit non-participation in established childhood vaccination programmes should also permit choice of vaccines outside of the approved programmes. Even if vaccine supply is too short to cover the paediatric population, the a priori exclusion of children is unjust. It may also exacerbate local and global inequalities. The second part of the paper delineates a prudent and ethical scheme for gradual incorporation of minors in vaccination programmes that includes a rigorous postvaccination monitoring. This is a theoretical paper in ethics that uses the Pfizer vaccine as a stock example, without discussing possible differences among existing vaccines. The key purpose is reflection on the good of the child in emergencies and vaccine policymaking.