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An ethical appraisal of the choice of vaccines against Poliomyelitis

T Jacob John, Dhanya Dharmapalan

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2018.074


Medical ethics is invoked for immunisation of children as it involves an interaction between a healthcare professional and the child. Immunisation under the national immunisation programme is a public health intervention and the common belief is that ethics is not relevant.

Two vaccines with contrasting safety and efficacy profiles were available against polio before the national immunisation programme was launched: the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and the live attenuated oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). India chose OPV and excluded IPV. We carried out an ethical appraisal of that choice. Principles of medical ethics comprising four elements—non-maleficence, beneficence, autonomy and justice—was already in vogue at the time. Applying each of them, a head-to-head comparison between IPV and OPV is made. The results clearly show that the choice of vaccine was made without using ethical principles, resulting in serious adverse effects in hundreds of thousands of children. We recommend that medical ethics must be applied to all choices of public health interventions.

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