Vaccine Ethics Project | NYU Langone Health

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Division of Medical Ethics Research Vaccine Ethics Project

Vaccine Ethics Project

Preventing infectious disease has long been a hallmark of research at NYU Langone. Our graduates and researchers include many who helped develop vaccines, including Hermann Biggs and William Hallock Park (diphtheria), Thomas Francis (influenza), Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk (polio), Saul Krugman (hepatitis), Robert Austrian (pneumococcus), and Ruth and Victor Nussenzweig (malaria).

The Vaccine Ethics Project, a joint effort of the Division of Medical Ethics and the Division of Medical Humanities, honors these achievements in public health by studying the growth of vaccine hesitancy and developing policies to counter it, and by disseminating information and strategies needed to confront anti-vaccine advocates. Members conduct research on strengthening state vaccination laws; educating parents about vaccines; studying medical, religious, and philosophical exemptions; mandates for healthcare and day care workers; testing novel vaccines; and examining best practices to train healthcare workers and the media in vaccine hesitancy.

In recent years, a wide range of domestic and global developments spotlighted the important public health implications of vaccine policy. These include a large, multistate outbreak of measles originating in Disneyland, California, that sickened 147 people, a 30 percent worldwide increase in measles that the World Health Organization has attributed in part to anti-vaccine sentiment; controversy over a new dengue vaccine that resulted in a suspension of the vaccine’s use in the Philippines; and wide distrust of other vaccines. Meanwhile, a new Ebola vaccine has shown promise in ring vaccination trials, and in Australia, a government vaccination program has led to a 77 percent reduction in the types of human papilloma virus (HPV) most responsible for cervical cancer.

These stories represent only a sample of recent major vaccine success stories as well as troubling vaccination trends. The Vaccine Ethics Project is examining these developments from scientific, cultural, historical, and ethical perspectives in an effort to improve public policy and understanding of vaccines.

Currently, the members of the Vaccine Ethics Project are engaging with two particular issues. First, identifying the most effective communication strategies for overcoming HPV vaccine hesitancy, increasing confidence in and uptake of the HPV vaccine, and comparing state-level policies on the HPV vaccine with policies on the hepatitis B vaccine. Second, observing and evaluating the outcomes of California’s SB 277, the 2016 law eliminating personal belief exemptions, and recommending ways medical professionals and regulatory bodies in California can enhance the law’s impact as well as extrapolating lessons learned from California that might be applied in other states considering similar policies. Members are also consulting with industry and government on the deployment of novel vaccines to prevent Ebola, HIV, and cholera.

Vaccine Ethics Project Members

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD
Catherine Constable, MD
Kyle E. Ferguson, PhD
Donald W. Light, PhD
David M. Oshinsky, PhD

Selected Vaccine Ethics Project Publications

Caplan AL. Stigma, vaccination, and moral accountability. Lancet. 2022. DOI.

Constable C … Quinn GP. Clinician communication strategies associated with increased uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: A systematic review. CA Cancer J Clin. 2022. DOI.

Parent B, Yang YT, and Caplan A. Should patients who refuse COVID vaccination be denied transplantation eligibility? J Card Fail. 2022. DOI.

Carmody ER … Caplan AL. Knowledge and attitudes toward Covid-19 and vaccines among a New York Haredi-Orthodox Jewish community. J Community Health. 2021. DOI.

Dal-Ré R, Orenstein W, and Caplan AL. Trial participants’ rights after authorisation of COVID-19 vaccines. Lancet Respir Med. 2021. DOI.

Ferguson K and Caplan A. Ashamed to Be Vaccinated? The Ethics of Health Care Employees Forgoing Unfair Priority. Hastings Bioethics Forum. 2021.

Ferguson K and Caplan A. Love thy neighbour? Allocating vaccines in a world of competing obligations. J Med Ethics. 2021. DOI.

Friesen P, Caplan AL, and Miller JE. COVID-19 vaccine research and the trouble with clinical equipoise. Lancet. 2021. DOI.

Parent B, Caplan A, and Mehta SA. Ethical considerations regarding COVID-19 vaccination for transplant candidates and recipients. Clin Transplant. 2021. DOI.

Shevzov-Zebrun N and Caplan AL. Priority vaccination for mental illness, developmental or intellectual disability. J Med Ethics. 2021. DOI.

Caplan AL and Abraham JL. Ethical considerations for protecting the options of subjects in primary epidemic vaccine trials. J Med Ethics. 2020. DOI.

Dal-Ré R … Porcher R. Ethical and scientific considerations regarding the early approval and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine. Ann Intern Med. 2020. DOI.

Ferguson K and Caplan A. Accepting the Challenge: Covid Vaccine Challenge Trials Can Be Ethically Justified. Hastings Bioethics Forum. 2020.

Caplan AL and Hotez PJ. Science in the fight to uphold the rights of children. PLoS Biol. 2018. DOI.

Evrony A and Caplan AL. The overlooked dangers of anti-vaccination groups’ social media presence. Human Vacc Immunother. 2017. DOI.

Cawkwell PB and Oshinsky D. Storytelling in the context of vaccine refusal: A strategy to improve communication and immunisation. Medical Humanit. 2016. DOI.

Schwartz JL and Caplan AL, eds. Vaccination Ethics and Policy: An Introduction with Readings. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

Caplan AL. Morality in a time of Ebola. Lancet. 2015. DOI.

Constable C, Blank NR, and Caplan AL. Rising rates of vaccine exemptions: Problems with current policy and more promising remedies. Vaccine. 2014. DOI.

Caplan A. Liberty has its responsibilities: Holding non-vaccinators liable for the harm they do. Hum Vacc Immumother. 2013;9(12):2666–2667.

Caplan A and Shah NR. Managing the human toll caused by seasonal influenza: New York State’s mandate to vaccinate or mask. JAMA. 2013. DOI.

Oshinsky DM. Polio: An American Story. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.