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The vaccine mandate debate

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The University of Pennsylvania is gathering experts from around the country on Sept 21st to debate the ethics and politics of vaccine mandates.

Several hospitals across the Philadelphia region now require workers to get the flu shot. That controversy has already made headlines, but Penn bioethicist Arthur Caplan says the development of new vaccines is spurring other debates.

For instances, scientists are working toward a vaccine that might diminish your ability to get high on illicit drugs.

Caplan: So if we had such vaccines, would we mandate that anybody who’s convicted of a crime using drugs has to be vaccinated? Would we mandate it for people who are in prisons? Would we mandate it for people who’ve failed their rehab efforts?

During the one-day conference, the experts will also discuss the cervical cancer vaccine for girls and whether states should keep unvaccinated children from enrolling in school.

Caplan directs Penn’s Center for Bioethics, which is hosting the meeting. He says the next generation of vaccines may be very different than present-day immunizations that are mandated to protect public health and keep infectious disease from spreading quickly.

Caplan: The emerging vaccines that are coming down the road they may have interesting applications for behavior, for things that we want to discourage that might be economically attractive to society to try and mandate.

As example, a vaccine to prevent nicotine addiction might save millions in public health costs if it were given to children.

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