Liability for Failure to Vaccinate

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 Can I Be Liable for Failing to Vaccinate My Child?

When parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they can potentially face legal consequences, especially if their child’s lack of vaccination leads to an outbreak or the harm of another individual. The concept of “child vaccine negligence” comes into play here. This idea suggests that by not vaccinating, parents might be neglecting their child’s health and welfare.

Vaccine liability in children suggests that if an unvaccinated child causes harm to another (e.g., by spreading a preventable disease), the parents could be held liable for damages or face failure to vaccinate charges or penalties.

Legally Opting Out From Vaccinations: Personal Exemptions Beliefs

While many states in the U.S. require children to be vaccinated to attend public schools, exemptions on various grounds – including medical, religious, and philosophical beliefs – are available in some jurisdictions.

Here’s a breakdown of the common grounds for vaccination exemptions and examples of each.

1. Medical Exemptions

Medical exemptions are granted when a child has a specific medical condition that makes receiving a vaccination unsafe for them. This could be due to an allergic reaction to a vaccine component, a compromised immune system, or another medical issue that makes vaccination risky.

Example: A child who previously had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a component in the measles vaccine might be granted a medical exemption from receiving further doses. Their physician would typically provide a signed document or certification explaining the medical contraindication to the vaccine.

2. Religious Exemptions

Some individuals or groups might oppose vaccinations based on their religious beliefs and practices. To qualify for a religious exemption, parents often need to provide a written statement detailing their religious objections to immunizations.

Example: A family practicing a particular religious denomination believes that introducing foreign substances into the body is against their faith’s teachings. They might seek a religious exemption for their child, citing their beliefs and potentially providing a letter from their religious leader or institution to support the claim.

3. Philosophical or Personal Belief Exemptions

Certain states allow exemptions based on philosophical, personal, or conscientiously held beliefs. These are broader than religious exemptions and can encompass a range of personal or philosophical objections to vaccination.

Example: A parent might believe that natural infection is a better way for their child to develop immunity than vaccination. Or, they might have concerns about the perceived risks associated with vaccines, even if not supported by mainstream science. In states allowing philosophical exemptions, these parents could potentially opt-out of vaccines for their child by providing a statement of their beliefs.

Homeschooling as an Alternative

Many parents who either disagree with vaccination mandates or have concerns about vaccines have chosen to homeschool their children to avoid potential child truancy or legal issues associated with not vaccinating. By homeschooling, they might not be subject to the same vaccination requirements that public schools impose. This choice can give parents more autonomy over their children’s education and health decisions.

Legality of Personal Exemptions

Each state determines its own vaccination requirements for public school attendance, and these can vary widely. While all states have medical exemptions, the availability of religious and philosophical exemptions differs. Over the past few years, there has been a significant push, both legally and socially, against non-medical exemptions.

States Pushing Back

Several states have tightened or eliminated non-medical exemptions in response to resurgences of vaccine-preventable diseases:

  • California: Following a significant measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland in 2014-2015, California passed SB277, which eliminated personal belief and religious exemptions for vaccines. Now, only medical exemptions are allowed, and these are closely monitored.
  • New York: After experiencing a severe measles outbreak in 2019, New York removed religious exemptions for vaccinations. The state now only allows medical exemptions.
  • Maine: In 2019, Maine passed a law that removed both religious and philosophical exemptions, leaving only medical exemptions.
  • Washington: While the state still allows religious and medical exemptions, it has removed personal/philosophical exemptions for the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.
  • Mississippi and West Virginia: Both these states are noteworthy for long having had strict vaccination laws that only allow medical exemptions.

It’s essential for parents to keep informed about their state’s laws, as these can change. Given the evolving nature of vaccine regulations and the potential health implications of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, states are continually re-evaluating their stances on exemptions.

Warnings From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate

The CDC strongly advocates for childhood vaccinations as a critical public health measure. They warn that unvaccinated children are at higher risk for certain diseases and can also pose a threat to those who can’t be vaccinated, such as infants or immunocompromised individuals. Parents who opt not to vaccinate are cautioned about potential outbreaks, prolonged illnesses, and the potential for complications that can result from preventable diseases.

Separated Parents and the Question of Vaccination

Vaccination can become a contentious issue between separated or divorced parents, especially when one parent wants to vaccinate the child and the other does not. Disagreements about vaccination can lead to legal battles, with courts often having to decide what’s in the best interest of the child. In many cases, courts might lean towards vaccination, especially if evidence shows it’s in the child’s best health interest.

The “best interest” standard is a legal principle used in family law settings, and it aims to prioritize the child’s well-being and health over parental disagreements or beliefs.

The “Best Interest” Standard

  • Health and Safety: Courts will typically consider whether the child’s health would be at risk without the vaccine. If a vaccine-preventable disease is prevalent in the area or if there’s an ongoing outbreak, the court is more likely to rule in favor of vaccination.
  • Medical Recommendations: Often, courts will weigh the opinions of medical professionals. If a pediatrician or another healthcare provider recommends vaccination, their professional judgment can be influential in a court’s decision.
  • Overall Welfare: The court will assess the overall welfare of the child, including their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. A decision to vaccinate might be supported if the court believes it will prevent potential harm or disruption to the child’s life, such as exclusion from school during an outbreak.


Imagine a scenario where two divorced parents, Alex and Jamie, share custody of their 8-year-old child, Casey. Alex, having read extensively about herd immunity and the benefits of vaccines, wishes to vaccinate Casey against measles. Jamie, influenced by vaccine misinformation, is adamantly against it.

As the two cannot agree, they turn to the court system. During the hearing, evidence is presented from several sources:

  • Casey’s pediatrician testifies, emphasizing the importance of the measles vaccine, especially given a recent outbreak in a neighboring county.
  • The school district provides information that unvaccinated children may be barred from attending school during outbreaks, potentially disrupting Casey’s education and social relationships.
  • Alex presents data from the CDC highlighting the effectiveness and safety of the measles vaccine.
  • Jamie cites personal beliefs and concerns about vaccine side effects as reasons against vaccination.

Given the weight of the professional medical opinion, the potential risk of measles in the area, and the overall welfare considerations, the court might decide that it’s in Casey’s best interest to receive the vaccine.

While courts often lean towards the prevailing medical consensus on vaccines, each case is decided on its individual merits, considering all presented evidence and circumstances.

Seeking an Attorney’s Advice On Child Vaccinations

Decisions related to child vaccinations can have both health and legal implications. If you’re uncertain about your rights or if you’re facing potential legal challenges related to your child’s vaccination status, seek legal advice. A personal injury lawyer can provide guidance tailored to your situation.

If you need assistance in finding a trusted attorney, consider using LegalMatch. We can connect you with experienced professionals ready to help.


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