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Laura  Williamson, PhD - Augusta University. Augusta, GA, US

Laura Williamson, PhD

Director, Center for Bioethics and Health Policy | Augusta University


A leading health ethicist specializing in vaccine hesitancy, addiction research, bioethics and immunization mandates.


Dr. Williamson holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool. She has extensive experience with issues across the field of health ethics, spanning clinical ethics and public health. This also includes the ethical issues raised by the development of new technologies, like animal-to-human transplantation, the treatment of people living with disabilities or impairments and the use and assessment of clinical ethics committees.

Her current research focuses on substance use disorders (addiction), vaccine hesitancy, the use of immunization mandates, the role of stigma in public health and the importance of engaging patients and citizens in debates about health.

Dr. Williamson has published two research monographs and a range of peer-reviewed publications in high-ranking journals. Her media experience includes interviews for national and local print news outlets (UK), and live and recorded packages for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Areas of Expertise (5)


Medical Ethics

Vaccine Hesitancy

Addiction Research

Immunization mandates

Education (2)

University of Surrey, St. Mary’s College: Bachelor's degree, Classical Studies and Theology

Philosophy Department, University of Liverpool, UK: Doctorate, Research Studentship

Affiliations (2)

  • American Public Health Association
  • American Society for Bioethics and Humanities

Media Appearances (4)

Guest column: Confidence in public health is a ‘liberty thing’

The Augusta Chronicle  online


During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us will have heard the call from scientists and media commentators to “follow the science.” This refrain is perhaps heard either as a sensible request or an excessive demand, depending on where we are positioned across the political aisle.

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The push for herd immunity

WORLD  radio


Laura Williamson directs the Center for Bioethics and Health Policy at Augusta University in Georgia. She says people not vaccinated yet mostly fall into three camps. "We've certainly got hesitant people. We have people that are genuinely struggling to access vaccinations, and then we've got the refusers," said Williamson.

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Govan cafe to to help boost local health

Glasgow Times  


Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University will hold a Community Café in Govan's Pearce Institute on Friday to talk to people about boosting Scottish health.

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A&E’s Intervention Returns This Month, But Some Addiction Experts Wish It Wouldn’t

Vanity Fair  print


“To be able to consent to participate in something, people need to be given information, be able to understand that information and its implications for them, and to decide without external pressure whether to go ahead. This means that for the intervention part of the program to be ethically sound, the participants with the SUDs would need to know about it in advance,” writes Laura Williamson, PhD, director of the Center for Bioethics and Health Policy at Augusta University, in an email. “While this might be thought by some to make great television, imposing this type of ‘shock’ treatment on a vulnerable group for entertainment purposes is alarming.”

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Articles (3)

The ethical impact of mandating childhood vaccination: The importance of the clinical encounter

Clinical Ethics

L. Williamson

Health ethics can justify the use of vaccination mandates. However, policies that pressurize parents to vaccinate their children can undermine traditional clinical ethics standards (e.g. autonomy and informed consent). The aim of this paper is to argue that the ethical impact of vaccination mandates can only be determined in the context of the clinical encounter. Public debate on the topic tends to be general in nature and, as a result, issues that require clarification to help sustain the trust of service users are underexamined. In addition, ethical debates are hampered by a toxic dichotomy in the public sphere between those (anti-vaccinators) who claim a move away from parental choice is necessarily a serious ethical violation; and others (often health scientists) who neglect serious consideration of ethical issues. This predicament permits flawed ethical claims to be made, and to remain unchallenged. Despite this, ethical concerns – including those relating to trust and individual freedom – are fundamental to sustaining confidence in vaccination. This has recently been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic which made accessing childhood vaccinations harder, leading to a further decline in uptake. The pandemic has also revealed the strength of public feeling towards infection control measures that restrict peoples’ freedoms. In this paper I argue that to minimize the ethical disruption associated with the use of vaccination mandates, it is essential to focus more attention on their impact in the clinic and to accurately identify the drivers of such tensions.

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Creating an ethical culture to support recovery from substance use disorders

Journal of Medical Ethics

L. Williamson

There is a long-standing failure to create an ethical culture around substance use disorders (SUDs) or dependence that actively supports people’s recovery efforts. Issues which impede the development of prorecovery environments are complex, but include the far-reaching effects of the social stigma that surrounds SUDs; and the failure to harness relational and social support that allows debates to transcend blaming individual substance users. As part of efforts to create prorecovery environments, it is important to acknowledge that bioethics debate on SUDs is narrow in scope, prioritising topics related to its traditional interests in individual autonomy and novel technologies. As a result, it has not played a significant role in helping to transform the ethical cultures in which substance use recovery takes place. For example, it largely neglects the ethical challenges of developing an empathic, person-centred approach to substance use problems that listens and responds to the voices of clients. It has also participated little in efforts to develop a positive response to reducing the toxic effects of stigma. Indeed, some contributions from the field fan stigma, rather than alleviate it. The aim of this paper is to seed broader ethical debate, in academic literature and lay/professional communities, on how societies should respond to SUDs: steering a course between the critical, but narrow approach of bioethics and the empowerment discourse of evidence-based treatments.

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Addressing vaccine hesitancy requires an ethically consistent health strategy

BMC Medical Ethics

Williamson, L., and Glaab, H.

Vaccine hesitancy is a growing threat to public health. The reasons are complex but linked inextricably to a lack of trust in vaccines, expertise and traditional sources of authority. Efforts to increase immunization uptake in children in many countries that have seen a fall in vaccination rates are two-fold: addressing hesitancy by improving healthcare professional-parent exchange and information provision in the clinic; and, secondly, public health strategies that can override parental concerns and values with coercive measures such as mandatory and presumptive vaccination.

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