CPS Lunch Forum: Katharine Browne

Katharine Browne (IFIKK/Langara) will present on "Vaccination and the Freedom to Choose" at CPS Lunch Forum. 

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Welcome to CPS Lunch Forum. It will be a digital meeting taking place at Zoom. To receive the zoom-link, send an e-mail to ingvihar@uio.no. The meeting is open for everyone! 


Katharine Browne has recently joined the project «Salient Solutions». She has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toronto and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at IFIKK from 2012 to 2014.


The availability of safe and effective vaccines has brought some hope that we may soon put the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us. But vaccination rates remain lower than desirable and this, combined with the waning immunity of those who are vaccinated and the emergence of a highly infectious new variant, is further extending the pandemic.  

As a result, there is growing momentum in some countries towards mandating vaccination against COVID-19. In this presentation I consider the extent to which mandatory vaccination can be ethically justified. I locate the strongest case against mandatory vaccination in respect for bodily autonomy and the doctrine of informed consent. It is widely accepted in biomedical ethics that decision-capable individual has the right to refuse any medical intervention. This should presumably also apply to vaccination.

Mandatory vaccination programmes explicitly violate the doctrine of informed consent.  This requires justification. Proponents of mandatory vaccination argue that individual liberty can be set aside to protect others from harm, and that remaining unvaccinated poses sufficient harm to others. 

I will outline why the harm-based justification for mandatory vaccination is not as straightforward as it might at first appear. This is because it is difficult to pinpoint a clear and immediate serious harm that any one individual's refusal to become vaccinated poses to others. We are left with what I take to be an irreconcilable tension between individual liberty and the aims of public health, and the hard choice of subordinating one in the service of the other. 

Published Jan. 18, 2022 11:12 AM - Last modified Mar. 21, 2022 8:27 AM