On Religious and Secular Exemptions. A Case Study of Childhood Vaccination Waivers

Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2016-28

General Subserie Research Paper No. 2016-02

20 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2016 Last revised: 9 Dec 2016

Date Written: July 11, 2016


This paper analyses exemptions to general law through the prism of vaccine waivers in the United States. All US states legally require the vaccination of children prior to school or daycare entry, however this obligation is accompanied with a system of medical, religious and/or philosophical exemptions. Nonmedical exemptions became subject of discussion after the 2015 Disneyland measles outbreak in California, which unequivocally brought to light what had been brewing below the surface for a while: a slow but steady decline in vaccination rates in Western societies, resulting in the reoccurrence of measles outbreaks. This can be traced back to an increasing public questioning of vaccines by a growing anti-vaccination movement. In reaction to the outbreak and the public outrage it generated, several states proposed – and some already passed – Bills to eliminate nonmedical exemptions.

I analyze two questions. First, can legal exemptions to mandatory childhood vaccination schemes for parents who oppose to vaccination (still) be justified? Second, should legal exemptions be limited to religious objections to vaccination, or should it also be granted to secular objections? Although the argument in the paper starts from the example of the USA, it seeks to provide a more general philosophical reflection on the question of exemptions to mandatory childhood vaccination.

Keywords: childhood vaccination, vaccination waivers, measles, Disneyland outbreak, legal exemptions

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Pierik, Roland, On Religious and Secular Exemptions. A Case Study of Childhood Vaccination Waivers (July 11, 2016). Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2016-28; General Subserie Research Paper No. 2016-02. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2807903 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2807903

Roland Pierik (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Oudemanhuispoort 4-6
Amsterdam, 1012 CN

HOME PAGE: http://www.rolandpierik.nl/theory

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