Vacature PhD Ethics

Vacature: PhD Ethics of indirect vaccination strategies

Project Description: Inducing Immunity for the sake of others –  Ethics of indirect vaccination strategies

Looking for

Vaccination is one of the major public health strategies, protecting individuals and populations against infectious diseases. Vaccination can also offer protection beyond the vaccinated persons themselves. Examples are maternal immunization to protect newborns (e.g. tetanus, pertussis, influenza), vaccination of healthcare workers to protect vulnerable patients (e.g. influenza, pertussis); or public health programs that aim to vaccinate persons who run a relatively small risk themselves but might spread infections to vulnerable others (e.g. influenza of children to protect the elderly or HPV vaccination of boys).

Such indirect vaccination strategies are increasingly recommended by for example the WHO and the Health Council of the Netherlands, but they also may raise ethical issues and public controversy, especially if benefits for vaccinees themselves are very small. This problem becomes only more urgent in the face of emerging vaccine hesitancy and slowly declining vaccination rates for regular childhood immunization. On the other hand, indirect immunization does appeal to such ethical notions as non-maleficence, benevolence and solidarity.

This study explores and tests possible ethical justifications for indirect vaccination, as offered or supported by government, aiming at high vaccination uptake among relevant target groups. The study will focus on three contexts: maternal immunization, professional immunization, and indirect vaccination for public health.
As such, the project seeks to answer the following research questions:

  1. Under what conditions are vaccination policies aiming at external effects ethically justified?
  2. When are health authorities justified in implementing such vaccinations in a routine, persuasive or otherwise pro-active manner?
  3. What communicative approach to promote such programs would be appropriate and trustworthy?

This is a PhD study in practical ethics, focusing on normative and conceptual analysis, informed by epidemiological data, and by focus group studies and expert/stakeholders discussions. The supervising team (Marcel Verweij, Wageningen, and Roland Pierik, University of Amsterdam) is closely linked to advisory and policy practices in The Netherlands (RIVM, Health Council, World Health Organization) and the study should result in ethical recommendations for vaccination policy and practice, including guidance for targeted communication strategies.

Asking for

  • You have received a Master’s degree in applied ethics or philosophy, please add your study results in the application.
  • You seek interactions between philosophical analysis and empirical social/medical sciences; specifically in relation to ethical issues in public health.
  • You have the communicative skills and are excellent in making ethical analysis practically relevant for professionals and policymakers.
  • You have proven excellent academic writing skills in English; in order to interact with policymakers and professionals and to have access to grey literature in The Netherlands, a basic understanding of Dutch is a requirement.


In principle, this is a 48 month PhD position. We offer a full-time appointment (1.0 fte, 38 hours/week) initially for 18 months, which after a positive go/no-go decision can be extended for another 30 months.
Salary ranges from € 2222,- (gross) in the first year to € 2840,- (gross) in the fourth year based on full-time employment and according to the CAO for Dutch Universities. In addition, we offer a holiday allowance of 8% and an end-of-the-year bonus of 8.3% of your annual salary and a good pension of the ABP Pension Fund.

More information

Starting date: as early as possible (ideally by April 15th) but not later than July 1st, 2018. Interviews are planned for 21 and 22 Februari. For more information about the project, please contact prof. dr. Marcel Verweij (tel.: +31(0)317-484310): email:

This appointment is in the Philosophy group, part of the section Communication, Philosophy and Technology. Research in our group ranges from normative-ethical analysis of public health practices, life science technologies and responsibilities towards animals and environment, but also includes exploration of philosophical presuppositions in, for example, the turn to ‘responsible innovation’. This project is a collaboration with the University of Amsterdam (legal philosophy) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

How to apply

You can apply until 13 February 2018. Please apply directly via the website and upload the following:

  1. a short motivation letter;
  2. CV including course grades and names of two references;
  3. a writing sample (MA thesis or academic paper);
  4. write and submit a brief (1 page) text in which you outline your approach to answering the research questions and realizing the project objectives. A description of the project can be retrieved here.

Wageningen University and Research Centre

“Delivering a substantial contribution to the quality of life. That’s our focus – each and every day. Within our domain, healthy food and living environment, we search for answers to issues affecting society – such as sustainable food production, climate change and alternative energy. Of course, we don’t do this alone. Every day, 6,500 people work on ‘the quality of life’, turning ideas into reality, on a global scale. Could you be one of these people? We give you the space you need.”


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