I will take the Covid-19 vaccine, when available, and I believe that most of us have a moral duty to do so. I also understand why many have reservations about its safety, its efficacy and its morality.
As I am not a medical expert, I won’t address the first two issues (safety and efficacy) here and I would rather invite everyone to get informed from a variety of reliable sources.
Instead, I will address the ethical factors that need to be considered, in the hope that my thoughts will help others to make up their own mind.
We are dealing here with what moral philosophy call prudential matters, i.e. practical decisions that need to take into consideration the general rules but also the specific circumstances. As these circumstances are different, the outcome of our judgements will be different too and I am not surprised if someone will come up with a diverse conclusion, even if they agree with me in principle.
Our culture overestimates the value freedom of choice and bodily autonomy, but the current pandemic shows how much we depend on each other and it reveals to what extent my decisions - particularly with regard to vaccination - have decisive impact on others.
Our primary ethical consideration should be towards the common good. In deciding what is the right thing to do, I should take into account the good of my community, particularly of those most vulnerable and of those around me that will be directly affected by my own choices.
The success of vaccination programmes depends on widespread compliance. In other circumstances, it is the sacrifice of a few that brings benefit to the rest. Think of soldiers who give their lives to save the whole country. This case is different because vaccination protects both individuals and society, so it is beneficial to all. At the same time, my choice of taking the vaccine does not impose serious threat to others, as generally the only concerns are at individual level. Therefore, we all have an interest in been vaccinated. Do we also have a moral duty?
Yes. However, there are two group resisting this: those who think they do not need vaccination and those who believe vaccines are more harmful than beneficial for them. In both cases, they disregard the common good.
Those who believe they are less likely to be impacted by the virus are also more likely to refuse vaccination and to not comply with hygienic restrictions. They generally young and in good health.
It is not only selfish to take advantage of mass vaccination without accepting the individual costs of achieving it, but it is also irrational to be in the unprotected category. Even when the impact is minimal - “it’s no more than a flu” they say - they expose others to a serious infection.
There is no moral justification for this careless position.
Those, instead, believing that the collective benefits do not outweigh the personal risks should acknowledge the sacrifices others, healthcare professionals for instance, have made for them. Some have lost their lives to save ours.
We should think and act according to a sense of responsibility, rather than personal autonomy and individual choices. Solidarity should take priority over personal concerns.
I am convinced that those, like myself, who have no medical counterindication, have a moral duty to vaccinate. It is a duty towards vulnerable patients who cannot protect themselves, and towards those who have made significant sacrifices.
It is also ethically important to set virtuous example by publicly supporting vaccination. Vaccination needs to be a collective action to optimally effect the common good. The benefits for all will only arrive if there is a wide participation. Any legitimate concern about risks should be addressed from the point of view of the common good.
I appreciate the good faith of those who will reply that, in their knowledge, the cure is worse than the disease. This is an argument beyond the scope of my competence and so I won’t engage in medical matters. I can only say that, having considered the different perspectives, I am not convinced by those who downplay the severity of this disease or emphasise the damages, rather than the benefits, that the vaccines will cause. Their concerns are not unfounded and we need critical voices but, on the balance, I cannot honestly follow their conclusions.
I am convinced that those who object to vaccination are imposing a risk not only on themselves but also on others. Unless one has medical contraindications, the right thing to do is to vaccinate.