Should smallpox vaccine be made available to the general public?

Thomas May, Ross D. Silverman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

7 Scopus citations


In June 2002, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approved draft recommendations concerning preparation for potential biological terror attacks that utilize the smallpox virus. ACIP recommends against both mandatory and voluntary vaccination of the general public. The present paper examines the moral and political considerations both for and against each of the general public vaccination options considered by the ACIP in the context of the state's authority over vaccination for the purposes of protecting public health. Although it is clear that compulsory mass vaccination is not justified at this time, the issues surrounding voluntary vaccination are more complex. Should smallpox vaccination prior to an outbreak be made available to the general public? The paper concludes that the vaccine should not be made available at this time. This conclusion, however, is based upon contingent features of current circumstances, which would change once an outbreak occurred. In the event of a terror-related outbreak of smallpox, the general public's access to voluntary vaccination would become justified, even in areas beyond where the outbreak has occurred.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-82
Number of pages16
JournalKennedy Institute of Ethics journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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