Is It A Crime To Avoid Vaccines? People Who Refuse Are Being Punished With Jail And Job Loss


Publish Date:
December 5, 2017
  • Sheridan, Kate
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Don’t want to get a vaccine for yourself or your child? Prepare to face the consequences. In the last month, a Detroit mother went to jail because she refused to vaccinate her child. Fifty people lost their jobs at a group of Midwestern hospitals and clinics because they declined a flu shot. And an Oregon university has blocked students from registering for classes unless they have a meningitis shot.

As governments and communities reassess how to handle parents who hesitate or decline when offered vaccinations, they are also confronting notions about when a person’s choice be punished. Should the consequence for one person’s health care choice look so similar to the ones society doles out for crimes?

Some hesitation may be inevitable for some parents. “I don’t think it represents a rational, informed weighing of risks and benefits, but I think it’s understandable,” said Michelle Mello, a law professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in public health law. Mello recalls her discomfort watching her own healthy infant laying down on the doctor’s table to be jabbed.“It’s easy to imagine that it’s not necessary,” she says. “But that’s just not correct.”

Still—does vaccine avoidance constitute a crime punishable with a prison sentence? Mello said that she thought the laws around vaccination were about right. And, in general, those laws are not the ones that are sending parents to jail. Instead, they’re going to jail because they’re indirectly breaking some other law.

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