Should personal preference override public safety?

SDGs 3 (good health and wellbeing) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities)

You would think that the happiest place on earth would be safe from the Measles. Right?!

In this year alone, there have been 465 cases of the measles in the US.
This is the second-greatest number of cases (greatest was in 2014 with 667) reported since measles was eliminated in 2000. This number is most likely due to the rising number of personal exemptions from vaccines. The most common reason for personal exemption is philosophy, with 17 states allowing exemptions due to personal beliefs. (see below)

The US values freedom more than anything else. After all, it’s what the county was founded for. However, our love for freedom will tend to (not go with) with our actual physiological need for safety (according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Different people have different ideas about the balance between health and safety, which is where the clash between pro and anti-vaxxers is located. Another controversial thing about this topic is the science VS pseudoscience and conspiracies behind each side. On the pro-vaccine side, there are many many studies that support vaccines and even debunk myths on the anti-vaxx side. Regarding anti-vaxx “science” (too much?), there was one (infamous) study that suggested vaccines caused autism. However, these myths were all debunked by countless studies as well as resulting in the license of the scientist who wrote the paper was quickly revoked (rephrase) Basically, credible pro-vaccine studies greatly outnumber credible anti-vaccine ones.

A quick bioethics crash course:

Before we get into discussing each side’s arguments: first, a quick “principles of bioethics” crash course. We use the principles of bioethics to help us analyze cases and answer ethical questions that we ask in our research.

AutonomyA patient has the right to make their own decisions if deemed competent
BeneficenceWhat does the MOST GOOD? What course of treatment/path results in the optimal situation?
Non-maleficenceWhat does the LEAST HARM? How can we prevent others from getting hurt physically, mentally, and/or emotionally?
Justice5 theories of justice: equality, equity (input oven output), power, need (those who need, get), and responsibility (those with more are responsible for the less fortunate)

Let’s look at each side:



Public health overrides personal freedom because whether a child is vaccinated affect the entire population. The normalization of not getting vaccinated due to personal preference has caused an increase in the number of unvaccinated people, which can be deadly for people who ACTUALLY cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons.


The more people are vaccinated, the closer we get to eradicating awful but preventable diseases and keeping more and more people safe. Basically, more vaccines = less bad diseases


Vaccines prevent diseases that can be fatal, and if not can cause significant harm. By getting vaccinated, you not only protect yourself but also others from these diseases.

How exactly do these diseases spread? Check out these two activities below to learn more:


Although there are certain people who choose not to vaccinate because of personal preference, there are some who cannot get vaccinated because of legitimate medical reasons. When people don’t get vaccinated, they put others at risk for these diseases. Although they could get vaccinated, they choose not to, which goes against our responsibility for others (who can’t be vaccinated).

Watch this short clip where Dr. Manning completely flames anti-vaxxers on a medical soap opera to look at the pro-vaccine sides.



Parents should decide whether their children – not the government or schools. Children are the responsibility of the parent, and parents know their children’s needs better than anyone else, so they should decide.

What do YOU think? Here are some scenarios to help you think about it:


Letting people choose their own path of treatment instead of forcing them to do something against their will does more good. Also, vaccines have harmful side effects that can have lasting effects on children. Therefore, not vaccinated them is beneficial to their health.


Vaccines are infamous for the serious health issues they can cause. By vaccinating, you put your child at risk for these extremely harmful lifelong illnesses.


People make a LOT of money on vaccines that could seriously harm others (power). Also, the government and schools trying to make vaccines 100% required is another example of power.

Let’s sum it up:

Watch this video to learn more about the “anti” vaccine side in a more humane way.

A SUPER interesting video that sums up both sides and brings up an excellent point about informed consent and what we owe to others.

What do you think?

Let’s continue the discussion! Use the padlet link below to contribute

Having children made us look differently at all these things that we take for granted, like taking your child to get a vaccine against measles or polio.

Melinda Gates

My view:

Personal freedom is important. This issue has brought to light how personal freedom always comes with a catch, which I think we blow out of proportion when discussing vaccines as opposed to other things such as driving, which is equally as dangerous to the public. Still, get vaccinated. Seriously. I can list all the scientific studies and educational videos out there, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t hear it from a real person, rather than an ugly university research page (no offense). First of all, why spend so much time and energy going against these credible, proven studies if you or your (future) child is at a greater risk for awful awful diseases and risk being ostracized from society. Also, your (future) child can face undeserved backlash for a decision that you made, which is a massive burden to put on them. Vaccinating your kids isn’t only the most medically sound option, but also the most practical for you and the people around you.


The thing is, a lot of us are legally minors whose parents take care of their medical appointments. However, soon we’ll be going to college, getting a job, getting married, and maybe even having kids. It’s never too early (or late!) to start educating ourselves on vaccines and our health, but it’s important to get our information from credible sources. If you aren’t already vaccinated and CAN (don’t get vaccinated if there are actual health complications), try and talk to your parent or guardian about it. For now, participating in conferences (like this one!) and standing up for what you believe in are the best ways to take action now.

Final words

This topic is extremely important. As much as we would like to believe that our choices affect only us, this is not the case. Everything that we do will alter something in someone else’s life, which is why our decisions about vaccines matter so much. Whether someone is vaccinated or not can unintentionally have an impact on others. Also, this isn’t a call to go bash in the heads of anti-vaxxers. The purpose of this project is to educate others on an extremely relevant issue that should be given more attention/respect. This lack of trust in modern medicine is costing children their lives. Let’s rebuild our trust in science so we can end this.


About the ~author~


Margot Hulme is a freshman (overall education wise – sophomore… it’s complicated) at Leaf Academy in Bratislava, Slovakia, although she is originally from New York. Margot was inspired to take this course because she always wondered if the things she saw in Grey’s Anatomy were legal/reasonable, so bioethics was a perfect fit. In addition to this class, Margot also does a lot of volunteering, homework, and missing her dog.

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  1. April 26, 2019 by Anjali.Mirmira

    Hi Margot! Great presentation! I found your view on this issue to be very interesting and I liked how you viewed both sides of the coin. I particularly liked the idea of herd immunity, where it is important that society vaccinates because some people cannot be vaccinated because they’re too young or have other medical concerns. I personally think that the idea of herd immunity is not emphasized (by the media and people in general) enough in this debate. It’s easy to view herd immunity as some large, over-arching, only potentially-effective concept. In reality, herd immunity plays a very large role in public health. I live in Indiana, USA and the big public health issue right now is that there are 22 reported cases of the mumps at Indiana University, our 2nd largest state school. It started at one reported case, and today I read that it was up to 22. It’s definitely a case of herd immunity and how quickly a disease can affect people!

    • April 28, 2019 by Margot Hulme

      Hey!! Herd immunity was actually the things that made me the most interested in vaccines, which is why I’m glad you’re interested in it as well. I totally agree that it should be covered more.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Erica

    Hi Margot! I loved all that you had to say, the layout, the videos, everything! I could tell that you spent a lot of time on this! A very minor thing I noticed, the Google link under autonomy needs the permissions settings to be changed. Aside from that, I really liked how you talk about all of the bioethical principles from both the pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine perspective. I think that gave a lot of value to your post and helped show how you came to the conclusion that you did in the section where you explicitly stated your views (it seems that beneficence and maleficence were big players). I also loved how you noted the difference in impact when reading about needing to vaccinate from an “ugly university research page” vs a real person, I hadn’t really quite thought about it like that so thank you for sharing!

    • April 28, 2019 by Margot Hulme

      Thank you so much!! The part of about the “ugly university research page” was something I found in real life. While the pro-vaccine side is more credible, they don’t have an appealing, heart to heart tone that anti-vaccine resources have.

  3. April 28, 2019 by Laura Reysz

    Hi Margot! I really appreciate your views in light of the principles of bioethics. This is a volatile issue and looking at it objectively is sometimes difficult. Your personal viewpoint was helpful also.

  4. April 29, 2019 by Alison.Lu

    Hi Margot, This is a great project! I love how you included the different sides to the question that you posed. I also really liked that you included your own perspective and reasons to back it up!
    Great job!

  5. April 29, 2019 by Sidney.Shah

    Hi Margot, I really enjoyed your project! I did a similar topic but focused more on the anti-vaccine group, but I found the ethics of vaccines really interesting. You did a great job of highlighting the ethics and reasoning of both sides of the arguments, especially without loads of scientific evidence (which can get a lot for the pro-vaccine side). Great job and I liked your personal view as well!

  6. April 29, 2019 by Aminah.Asghar

    Hey Margot,
    I really liked your presentation! You go in depth to find the bases for the anti-vax platform and the distinction between philosophical, religious, and medical reasons is important to highlight. I specifically enjoyed reading your view on it.

  7. April 30, 2019 by Catherine.Rosenbaum

    Hi Margot, I really liked your project! I could tell that you spent a long time thinking about the lay-out and presentation of information, and I thought it made a big impact on the reader. I found it incredibly beneficial that you looked seriously into both sides of the argument, and it does relate to my topic on the “anti” side of things. I was wondering, how do you think the spread of misinformation/pseudo-science has affected the views of anti-vaxxers? Does it have a serious impact? Again, great project!

  8. May 02, 2019 by Francis.Davis

    Margot, fantastic presentation. I really appreciated your impartial approach to the issue, and really exploring both sides – it’s important. My question is: do you think that the U.S. should mandate vaccines? After all, when public safety is a concern, the government can and has taken action. Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” prompted massive governmental oversight of the auto industry from the late 60s on. Out of it, we got seatbelts, airbags, etc… all mandated. Do you think it is the job of the government to mandate these protections in place or leave it up to the people? Indulge me on some really old politics for a minute: early political philosophers such as John Locke talk at length about the social contract – the idea (among other things) that citizens sign away some degree of their freedom when they enter society. I’m sure you know all of this already, but point is, I think the same concept applies today. Balancing personal freedoms with security is a historically difficult issue and I’m sure one around which debate will never end. You’ve done a great job parsing information and trying to rectify both sides of the argument. Great work!

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