Ethical Principles Regarding Childhood Vaccination

Topic: Medical Ethics
Words: 942 Pages: 3


Health care professionals often encounter intricate situations that require applying ethical principles (EPs) to make adequate decisions. The case study “To Vaccinate, or Not” centers around Jenna and Chris Smith, the parents of a 5–day–old baby girl named Ana, and Dr. Angela Kerr, the family’s new pediatrician (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). The Smiths wish to raise Ana without vaccinating her, but Dr. Kerr advises that routine childhood immunization is important by helping to maintain health (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Consequently, the ethical dilemma faced by Dr. Kerr is determining whether she should counter Jenna and Chris’s beliefs and persuade them to vaccinate their child or accept the couple’s position but possibly endanger Ana. Notably, all of the mentioned four individuals are likely to be affected by the issue because Dr. Kerr’s decision may influence her and the Smiths’ perspectives and impact Ana’s well-being. The Ethical Decision-Making Model (EDMM) and such ethical principles as beneficence can assist Dr. Kerr in analyzing and finding a solution to the issue.

Ethical Decision-Making Model

EDMM is an approach that can help in understanding and resolving Dr. Kerr’s situation. The primary components of EDMM are moral awareness (MA), moral judgment (MJ), and ethical behavior (EB) (“Ethical decision-making model,” n.d.). MA refers to recognizing the existence of a problem, which is represented by Dr. Kerr acknowledging some concerns in how Jenna and Chris made their decision regarding vaccination (“Ethical decision-making model,” n.d.). For example, some factors contributing to the issue are that the parents refuse to vaccinate Ana because they believe vaccines may cause autism and that their research included online mommy–blogs (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Such aspects may have concerned Dr. Kerr because, as a health care professional, she values the findings of scholarly studies more than information from common websites on the Internet (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Accordingly, Dr. Kerr realizes that the Smiths may have a wrongful idea about vaccination.

Furthermore, EDMM can explain how Dr. Kerr chooses a way of approaching the issue. MA is followed by MJ, which is based on deciding what is right or wrong and is reflected in Dr. Kerr’s determination to demonstrate the benefits of routine childhood immunization (“Ethical decision-making model,” n.d.). Dr. Kerr knows that modern vaccines do not increase the risk of autism and are important for people not to be affected by various diseases and not spread illnesses to others (MacDonald et al., 2018). Dr. Kerr’s EB is represented in her perseverance to do the right thing, which is not the same for everyone (“Ethical decision-making model,” n.d.). For instance, Dr. Kerr acknowledges to the parents that vaccines are surrounded by controversial debates, but she emphasizes how vaccination helps decrease child mortality and is supported by the government (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Consequently, EDMM indicates that Dr. Kerr’s ethical dilemma is based on her experience as a medical specialist and the beliefs of Ana’s parents.

Effectiveness of Communication

Communication is a crucial aspect that can affect how people react to medical services. A health care professional should concentrate on patient-centered approaches to communication to establish trusting relationships (Naughton, 2018). Such a strategy is based on openness, active listening, and plain speaking (Naughton, 2018). Dr. Kerr reflects openness by admitting that vaccines are not always perceived positively, listens intently to Ana’s parents, and calmly details why the Smiths should reconsider vaccination (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Moreover, patient-centered communication involves shared understanding between providers and patients, and Jenna and Chris confirm that they comprehend Dr. Kerr’s explanation (Naughton, 2018; “Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Nonetheless, despite utilizing an appropriate communication method, Dr. Kerr’s approach is ineffective due to the Smiths’ final decision not to vaccinate their daughter (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Accordingly, Dr. Kerr’s way of dealing with the issues by listing the advantages of vaccination was not useful. Health care specialists can learn from the case study that communication is important for patients to understand the significance of certain treatments, but making a final decision requires additional effort from providers.

Ethical Principles

Applying ethical principles can assist Dr. Kerr in resolving how to react to the Smiths’ determination. The case study’s moral dilemma is caused by the conflict between beneficence and nonmaleficence on the one hand and autonomy and justice on the other hand. The former two principles refer to a health care professional’s obligation to benefit and not harm patients, while the latter signify the importance of valuing others and being fair (Varkey, 2020). Consequently, Dr. Kerr should consider that Jenna and Chris do not want their daughter vaccinated at this time, which means that they may rethink in the future (“Ethical case studies,” n.d.). Therefore, to obey the principles of autonomy and justice, Dr. Kerr should not pressure the Smiths to change their minds right away. However, to follow beneficence and nonmaleficence, Dr. Kerr should recommend they read some evidence-based studies regarding the advantages of vaccination to reconsider the matter later. Notably, Dr. Kerr should remember that as a pediatrician, her primary concern is Ana and Ana’s well-being. Therefore, Dr. Kerr should focus on helping the child’s parents to realize that their daughter’s health may need additional support.


EDMM indicates that the ethical dilemma faced by Dr. Kerr is due to discrepancies between her expertise and the Smiths’ beliefs, while the ethical principles suggest that she should not actively pressure the couple. Dr. Smith must respect Jenna and Chris’s views, but she is also obliged to ensure Ana’s sufficient health for the long term. Therefore, rather than contradicting the Smiths’ position, it may be better to assist them in gradually discovering the benefits of vaccination for Ana to be prepared to overcome preventable diseases.


Ethical case studies. (n.d.). Capella University. Web.

Ethical decision-making model. (n.d.). Capella University.

MacDonald, N. E., Harmon, S., Dube, E., Steenbeek, A., Crowcroft, N., Opel, D. J., Faour, D., Leask, J., & Butler, R. (2018). Mandatory infant & childhood immunization: Rationales, issues and knowledge gaps. Vaccine, 36(39), 5811-5818.

Naughton, C. A. (2018). Patient-centered communication. Pharmacy, 6(1), 1-8.

Varkey, B. (2020). Principles of clinical ethics and their application to practice. Medical Principles and Practice, 30(1), 17-28.

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