Religious Values and Vaccine Refusal: A Bioethical Lens



Hello! My name is Sweta Balaji, and welcome to my bioethics presentation about the role of religious values in vaccine refusal. Please begin by watching the video below for an introduction to this presentation and how you can use it to inform yourself on this issue.

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy!

Introduction Video

The guiding bioethical question: Should religious values be used to justify vaccine refusal?

Overview of Religious Values and Vaccination Refusal in the US

Link to presentation



2 Distinct Approaches to Nonmedical Vaccine Exemption

The video below will take you through two case studies of two different US states on their approach to nonmedical vaccine exemption and an analysis of the role of the four major principles of bioethics in these case studies.

To start, here is a basic understanding of the four major principles of bioethics:

Autonomy: The right of mentally and physically competent individuals to make their own, informed decisions surrounding their medical care. When it comes to receiving vaccinations, American adults have the right to choose whether or not they receive a vaccine. 

Beneficence: Making decisions that create a positive impact in society. Receiving vaccinations benefits society because vaccines are proven keep individuals healthy from certain illnesses.

Nonmaleficence: Making decisions that avoid negative and harmful consequences for society. Receiving vaccinations prevents the spread of potentially deadly illnesses.

Justice: The equitable distribution of resources and care among individuals, communities, countries, etc. Many low income countries do not have the same access to vaccines that higher income countries do, demonstrating a lack of justice in vaccine distribution across the world. 

Source of these case studies:

Mark Christopher Navin, Mark Aaron Largent, Improving Nonmedical Vaccine Exemption Policies: Three Case Studies, Public Health Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 3, November 2017, Pages 225–234,



United Nations Sustainability Goals

In this course, we looked at the UN sustainability goals and the possible connections that our bioethical area of research has with some of these goals. The UN sustainability goals I believe are most connected to the use of religious values in vaccination refusal are goal 3: good health and well-being, goal 4: quality education, and goal 10: reduced inequalities.

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

In order to achieve good health and wellbeing in a community, especially one that is ridden with preventable diseases, it’s vital to ensure every member (or as many members as possible) are vaccinated. I believe that the use of nonmedical vaccine exemptions inhibit from the good health and well-being of a community. Especially since, in many states, it is quite simple to receive a nonmedical vaccine exemption, it provides greater opportunities for people who may not be well educated on the benefits of vaccines to opt out of receiving their vaccinations, thereby compromising the health of a community. In order to achieve this goal as it pertains to this issue, I believe that legislation surrounding vaccinations should approach the issue from the perspective of societal beneficence.


Goal 4: Quality Education

Education about the benefits and risks of vaccines are vital in order for individuals of a community to make informed decisions to receive their vaccinations. I believe that a major reason why individuals use religious exemptions from vaccinations (when there aren’t specific doctrines that oppose vaccines in most major religions) is because of a lack of education on the societal benefits that getting vaccinated can have. Emphasis must be put on the stopping of vaccine misinformation and increased reliable vaccine information.


Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

This goal speaks to the bioethical principle of justice. Too often, socioeconomic status and zip code predict one’s access to vaccines. Even within the United States, there are individuals who deserve to receive vaccinations that are not able to because of a lack of access to vaccines in their communities or having to wait an unusually long amount of time before receiving it (i.e. long lines for vaccination). Emphasis must be put on targeting low income communities with poor public health infrastructure to improve their access to vaccines.



My Final Thoughts

This section describes a bit about my thoughts surrounding the issue of the use of religious values to refuse vaccinations in the US. It is wholly possible that your thoughts may differ from mine, so I encourage you, if you would like, to use the comment section to describe your thoughts.

As you may be able to glean from my description of the relevant UN sustainability goals with regards to this issue, I believe that the bioethical perspective that wins is beneficence/nonmaleficence (they both happen to overlap in this issue). In order to keep all members of a community safe, each person must commit to receiving their vaccinations, granted they do not have a medical exemption. As I’ve referred to a couple of times in this presentation, there is no major religion that has a specific doctrine opposing vaccines. In fact, most religions preach the importance of contributing to societal beneficence. Therefore, a person’s religious values must, if anything, support the receiving of vaccinations. When vaccines have the power to protect the health of a community, it is necessary for people, with the backing of their religious beliefs, to get vaccinated. A common counterpoint to this idea is that the use of religious values to refuse vaccinations is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, most of the time, religious values do not even support the refusal of vaccinations; therefore, this is not an issue of religion and rather an issue of hesitancy or even a lack of education about the benefits of vaccinations. When it comes to public health, one must prioritize the role they have as a contributor to the wellbeing of their community.

In a conversation with Rennie Greenfield, a religion teacher at my school who is well versed in many major religions, I asked him if he anticipates any point in the future when people will reach a consensus between religious values and receiving vaccinations. His immediate response was a strong, “no.” His perspective regarding this issue was that the use of religious values to justify vaccine refusal is really a sign of an individual’s lack of reliable education on the benefits of vaccines. He explained that this spread of misinformation is one that will be difficult to stop. However, he described having more hope for the upcoming generation and their ability to better detect and avoid misinformation. His perspective is one that I greatly resonate with. Misinformation is difficult to stop, and once a person is wrongly educated, there is not much that can be done to convince them of the facts. However, there is more hope for upcoming generations. Growing up surrounded by a culture in which we’re forced to make judgements every day has equipped us to take on a world that may be filled with misinformation.



Discussion Questions

If you would like, please use these questions below to foster a meaningful discussion either in the comments, among your friends and family, or to think about on your own. I would love to learn about your thoughts regarding these questions or any other ideas and opinions you may have.

Do you believe that a consensus can be reached between religious values and receiving vaccinations? Why/why not?

Which bioethical principle do you believe is most important in this issue (autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice)?

What do you believe is the future of this issue?

Thank you so much for viewing this presentation



  1. Hi Sweta. I think your project is so interesting! I was quite impressed that you aimed for this project to be about information rather than good and bad, that would be a big challenge for me! I think I used to believe that as society modernizes, resistance to vaccines would lessen, but especially the interview with your religious studies teacher, I am starting to question if that is true. It seems that what we have advanced in medicine, we have also advanced in misinformation tactics. I think the future of this issue really hard to say. It is really difficult for me to imagine a US in which vaccines are required in order to attend school, for example. I appreciate hearing both sides of the ethical arguments so thank you!

  2. Hi Sweta! I really like how you designed this project. The discussion about two states with varying vaccination policies was really helpful and informative. I also like how you included a discussion of the UN Sustainability Goals. I agree with your religious teacher, in that it’ll be very difficult to reach a consensus on this issue due to the spread of misinformation and a lack of education on how vaccines work. Misinformation is really difficult to stop, and it’s even more difficult to change the opinion of a person who learns from misinformation because some people aren’t willing to change their opinions. I also agree with you in that I believe societal beneficence/nonmaleficence win. I’m not quite sure about the future. I find this project really interesting and am glad that you held an unbiased perspective when explaining the information.

  3. Hi Sweta! I really enjoyed your project! I like how you interviewed your religion teacher to gain a new perspective on this issue. I agree with them that the issue is more based on misinformation rather than religions being restrictive. This issue may be resolved with the next generation and if we have a better spread of information for vaccines. I agree that the principle of beneficence is the bioethical lens that wins as the societal benefit should outweigh personal convictions about receiving vaccines. Good job on your project!

  4. Hi Sweta, this is such a cool project! Your page is unique and organized, making it engaging and really easy to follow. This topic is such an interesting one to take on, especially considering the current climate surrounding vaccine hesitancy. Great job!!

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