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Are Vaccinations Safe?

June 30, 2010

Are Vaccinations Safe?

Denise Scammon

Global Ethics

Professor Hammer

June 15, 2010

Federal law mandates that all U.S. citizens be fully vaccinated per federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vaccine Program office. The purpose of vaccinations is to prevent diseases that carry the risk of disability or death and/or that are contagious. The CDC (2010) claims on its website that, “Health may have been one of the things Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he drafted the phrase, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ for the Declaration of Independence.” The CDC’s website mixes fact with fallacy in regards to the origin of vaccinations. I find that the CDC’s use of Thomas Jefferson’s intention in drafting the Declaration of Independence is an inappropriate link to vaccinations because it contains an informal fallacy – an appeal to inappropriate authority. Boss (2008) states that, “The assumption that someone who is an authority in one field must also be knowledgeable in all other fields is sometimes called the ‘halo effect’” (p. 58). The basis for immunizations to be legally required ought to be based on moral truths and unbiased scientific research.

Vaccines carry a risk to the health of the receiver, yet society expects its members to take this risk for the benefit of a greater number of people. Parents face a moral dilemma when it comes to vaccines, particularly if their child has had a severe reaction to a vaccine early in the immunization schedule. On one hand, parents want to protect their child’s health by having the vaccine administered, and on the other hand, parents want to protect their child’s health from the damage a severe reaction to a vaccine can cause. Society places less value on the individual than it places on the group when it comes to vaccinations which is evident by its laws requiring all children attending public schools to be vaccinated. Society is applying the theory of cultural relativism, which is described by Boss (2008) as a morality that “is created collectively by groups and differs from society to society” (p. 9) and also that “public opinion, rather than private opinion, determines what is right and wrong” (p. 100).

In my experience at my children’s immunization visits, the children’s pediatrician briefly

discussed generic vaccination reactions with me, but that discussion did not mention the dangers of the vaccines. The pediatrician merely suggested that some children have reactions such as redness at the site of the shot, irritability, and crying. Research on vaccinations at this time was limited.

When the DPT vaccine was administered, I was told that if the baby cried for a long period of time, I was to call the doctor. The solution, according to the pediatrician, would be to not give the P part of the vaccine at the next scheduled appointment. There was never any mention of the serious side effects that could occur. My first child did not experience a noticeable reaction, but my second child did experience redness and prolonged crying and so his next two DPT vaccinations did not include the P. My first child did not experience a reaction to the MMR vaccine, but my second child, at the age of 18 months, did experience a reaction and it was a severe reaction. My second child had a febrile seizure 10 days after administration of the MMR vaccine. I called 9-1-1 for an ambulance to bring my child to the hospital because I thought my child was dying. At the hospital, my child was seen by the emergency doctor who looked him over and said he appeared fine and that perhaps he had a virus. It was suggested that I call the child’s pediatrician as soon as possible for a check-up. At that follow-up check-up with my child’s pediatrician, I was told that febrile seizures were common. I was reassured that my son was fine.

When my second child was almost five years old, he had another febrile seizure. Again, he went to the hospital via ambulance. At the time, chicken pox was going around, and the emergency doctor thought the febrile seizure may have been caused by a virus. But, this time, the emergency doctor asked if my child had a recent vaccine. My child had not recently received a vaccine, but I thought back to his first febrile seizure and how it had occurred within the reaction period for that vaccine – 10 to 14 days. Coincidentally, at the time of his second febrile seizure, an article about the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was published in the local paper. I learned a lot about

the dangers of vaccines from the article, so this time, when my son went to see his pediatrician as a

follow-up to the emergency room visit, I asked the pediatrician more detailed questions about the safety of vaccines and I found his answers to be evasive.

The NCVIA basically was created as a clearinghouse for lawsuits against doctors and pharmaceutical companies in which all blame is removed. A portion of the cost of a vaccine goes to the clearinghouse to pay for damages inflicted by the vaccines as determined via lawsuits. I contacted a local law firm to represent my son and determine whether or not there was any basis for him to receive any compensation. The law firm I chose happened to have a lawyer working at the firm who once worked for the NCVIA. My lawyer asked that I contact my child’s pediatrician and request his medical records be sent to the law firm. I called and the secretary told me that the pediatrician was busy and so I told her I needed my son’s records sent to the law firm.

One night shortly after my request for my child’s medical records, I received a call from the pediatrician. He wanted to know why I had requested the medical records. I explained that I had read about the NCVIA and that I wanted to know if my son fit the criteria for compensation because of the febrile seizures. The pediatrician tried to make me feel guilty about seeking compensation. He stated that it is parents like me who cause the price of medicine to go up. I told him I had every right to seek compensation if the law felt it was due my son. He stated that my lawyer was acting as if she was on the TV show “Law & Order” and since he played golf with her boss, he would make sure her boss prevented her from carrying on with my inquiries. He further stated that I would not win my case anyway and he wanted to know if I knew what happened to mothers who brought such frivolous cases to court. He said that I would be found an unfit mother because I did not bring my child in to see him immediately and that I risked having my child taken away from me.

The day after that phone call, I found a different pediatrician for my children. I also went forward with having the lawyer look into the vaccine injury law. The lawyer discovered that my son

did not meet the criteria for a vaccine injury which was to have more than one febrile seizure within

one year’s time. I knew the doctor’s argument contained several informal fallacies such as the appeal to force, which Boss (2008) describes as times “when we use or threaten to use force … in an attempt to coerce another person to accept our conclusion” (p. 56). The doctor tried to scare me from pursuing my investigation by stating I might lose custody of my child. He also tried to intimidate me by telling me that he had the power to control my lawsuit because he golfed with the law firm partner. By stating that I would be found an unfit mother because my child did not see him before going to the emergency room, the doctor was committing the abusive fallacy.

I refused to have a second MMR vaccine administered to my second child in order for him to attend school. In my case, I am applying ethical subjectivism, which according to Boss (2008) states that, “moral right or wrong is relative to the individual” (p. 9). My moral reasoning on the subject of whether or not to have my child receive a second dose of the MMR vaccine began with the experience of the first vaccine, a period of interpreting the available information on vaccines, and a period of analyzing the information in the form of praxis (Boss, 2008, p. 33). I approached the situation with wonder, curiosity, and skepticism as to the safety of the vaccines required because of my child’s experience. Children are allowed to attend school without having all the required vaccines, but their parents have to request in writing that their child be allowed to do so knowing the risks to their child if an outbreak of an immunizable disease should occur in school. Schools may require that the child stay home from school during such an outbreak.

I feel that the solution to administering potentially harmful vaccines administered in order for children to attend public schools continues to devalue the individual and places greater emphasis on social Darwinism and the theory of cultural relativism. Social Darwinism is a theory of survival of the fittest and someone disabled by a vaccination may not be able to contribute to society as well as someone not afflicted. The belief that disabled people cannot contribute to society as well as people who are not disabled appears to be prevalent in all areas of life since society has to make accommodations for disabilities if the money is available and if there is enough of a demand. The connection between cultural relativism and social Darwinism comes from the widespread moral standards and values placed on those who can contribute to society. Requiring vaccinations even with the knowledge that some people will have severe reactions is a way of stating that the fittest will survive the vaccines which is a culturally relative belief. Today, research about the pros and cons of vaccinations ought to be distributed to children in school, beginning in high school, prior to becoming parents and being responsible for the health of their own children. I feel that this disbursement of information is important because it allows people to act autonomously, which is described by Boss (2008) as “independent, self-governing [thinking]” (p. 12).


Boss, J. (2008). Ethics for life: A text with readings. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vaccine Program Office. (2010, June). Immunization laws. Retrieved June 13, 2010, from


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