Star Trek medicine?

March 26th, 2007

An interesting article in last week’s Economist talks about ‘flu vaccinations. The majority of individuals who have a jab are elderly, for the obvious reason that they are more likely to die from catching ‘flu than the young.

However, as the parents of any small child know, it is the young who bring pestilence into the home. Thereafter, adults spread coughs and sneezes in their workplaces. Vaccinating the young would reduce the spread of flu, thus saving lives.

Indeed, if 77% of young people were given jabs, seasonal flu could be all but eliminated. A utilitarian strategy, however, is a top-down affair because it relies on a community-wide programme, rather than on individuals’ choices about whether to get vaccinated.

In other words, as Spock might put it, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Whether Dr Spock would agree, I could not say!

The only case where it seems likely that people will get themselves vaccinated for the greater good of society is when a pandemic threatens. There, the needs of the one are closely aligned with the needs of the many.