From the Panel

Getting Vaccinated Is a Moral Obligation

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Below is an excerpt from "On Faith," an Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, more than 50 figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion. This week's question: Polls show a majority of Americans are concerned about the H1N1 virus (swine flu) but also about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Is it ethical to say no to this or any vaccine? Are there valid religious reasons to accept or decline a vaccine? Will you get a swine flu shot? Will your children?

When I heard reports of people protesting the fact that they might be forced to get the vaccine (health-care workers), I groaned. There are times when this "these are our rights" battle cry gets exhausting. When does the well-being of the society take precedence over individual rights? Why is it more important for one to declare his or her "rights" than for that individual to want to help halt the spread of a disease that is, apparently, threatening to become a pandemic? . . .

There is a time, I think, when individual rights have to take a back seat to the well-being of the institution or society. If getting an H1N1 vaccine will help keep more people well, then I think we ought to get it. Saving masses of people from illness or possibly death by getting a shot is not an infringement on my rights. It is a moral and ethical obligation.

-- Susan K. Smith, senior pastor, Advent United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio

When we refuse a child a vaccination we are violating the rationale for having children. We are unnecessarily endangering others. Not only is one's own child at risk. Vaccinations are a barrier against contagion. In unvaccinated populations everyone is at risk. . . . Can there be a more urgent religious imperative than to prevent harm to one's own child, and to others? . . .

To vaccinate is a religious obligation. To refuse protection for a serious disease is a sin.

-- David Wolpe, rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles

There are religious reasons to decline a vaccine, there are valid reasons to decline a vaccine, but there are no valid religious reasons to decline a vaccine.

I think an adult should have maximum decision-making freedom on issues that involve him or her, alone. However, since all viruses are contagious, ethical considerations demand taking into account how declining a vaccine may also affect others.

-- Herb Silverman, president, Secular Coalition for America

To read the complete essays and more "On Faith" commentary, hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, go to

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