The Vaccine Ethics Project

Preventing infectious disease has long been a hallmark of research at the NYU School of Medicine.  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 and developing policies to counter vaccine hesitancy 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 health care and day care workers; testing novel vaccines; and examining best practices to train health care 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, and 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 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 to policies on the hepatitis B vaccine.  Second, observing and evaluating the outcomes of California’s SB 277, the 2015 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 Publications: