Midday On Ethics With Dr. Jeffrey Kahn: Vaccination Matters | WYPR

Midday On Ethics With Dr. Jeffrey Kahn: Vaccination Matters

Jan 24, 2018

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn heads the Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Credit photo from Johns Hopkins University

How are you feeling today?  Flu-ish maybe?  If so, you’re not alone.  We keep hearing that this is the worst flu season in years.  And if you’ve had this year’s flu, that’s no doubt how it feels. In fact, it is probably the worst flu season in the past three years, and we’ll have to wait until it’s over before the CDC can rank it more definitively.   

Here’s what we do know in this -- the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Influenza pandemic, which infected 500 million people worldwide.

This year’s flu is now widespread in 49 states -- all but Hawaii. The number of children who have died from flu this winter has now reached 30.  Three years ago 148 children died from the flu, according to the CDC.  The number of adults who die from flu in any given year is less clear.  But what is clear is that the flu is serious.  

The severity of this year’s flu raises some interesting ethical questions.  For example:  Should getting a flu vaccination be mandatory?   Of course, being vaccinated is no guarantee that you’ll avoid the illness, but experts point out that if more people are vaccinated, the outbreak will theoretically be less virulent.

Where children are concerned, the link between vaccination and health is perhaps clearer.  Most of the 30 children known to have died from the flu so far this winter -- about 85% -- had not been vaccinated. 

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, joins Tom today.   He stops by from time to time to help us explore how ethicists frame some very complex questions, in a segment we call Midday on Ethics.