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Promoting responsibility by involving children in ethical discussion on vaccination


There are good reasons to expect individuals to take responsibility, for example by getting vaccinated. When it comes to vaccinating children, the benefit-risk ratio is different for COVID-19 then for example, because children are not as severely affected. In a recent publication in Public Health Ethics, Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist suggests that children should be encouraged to take responsibility for vaccination, both for themselves, for others, and for the benefit of public health.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised broader ethical questions concerning public health and some particular ethical issues about balancing individual freedom against protecting vulnerable people and the healthcare system, raising questions related to moral responsibility, both at an individual and collective level. Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, points out to what extent children should be seen as responsible decision-makers who are capable of contributing to its management and potential solution.

One of the main issues with vaccinating children is whether the freedom of parents to make decisions for their children is considered more important than protecting the general population.  According to Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, Associate Professor in Practical Philosophy at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB), in the light of arguments supporting children as social actors, it is reasonable to consider their ability to take responsibility for others. Parents, schools, healthcare professionals and public health agencies should work towards involving children in ethical discussions on vaccination and public health. The discussions should not solely focus on the risk and benefits of vaccination for the children themselves but also on the impact of their actions on others and how they can contribute to addressing the problem.

“Vaccination should be seen as an opportunity for children to develop a sense of responsibility. I argue that responsibility can be seen as a virtue in the context of public health care, and should be considered a trait that develops over time with experience and support” says Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist.

Read it here: Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, Taking Risks to Protect Others—Pediatric Vaccination and Moral Responsibility, Public Health Ethics, 2023;, phad005,

By Märta Karlén

Last modified: 2024-03-19