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

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

Selected Vaccine Ethics Project Publications

Caplan AL. The battle over compulsory vaccination in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2018. DOI.

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.

Caplan AL and Curry DR. Refugees, humanitarian aid and the right to decline vaccinations. J Med Ethics. 2015. DOI.

Cawkwell PB and Oshinsky D. Childhood vaccination requirements: Lessons from history, Mississippi, and a path forward. Vaccine. 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.

Blank NR, Caplan AL, and Constable C. Exempting school children from immunizations: States with few barriers had highest rates of nonmedical exemptions. Health Affairs. 2013. 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.

Light DW. Advanced market commitments: Current realities and alternate approaches. Health Action International (HAI) Europe. 2009.

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

Light DW. Making practical markets for vaccines: Why I decided that the Center for Global Development Report, Making Markets for Vaccines, offers poor advice to government and foundation leaders. PLoS Med. 2005. DOI.