Compulsory vaccination and conscientious or philosophical exemptions: past, present, and future

Lancet. 2006 Feb 4;367(9508):436-42. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68144-0.


Compulsory vaccination has contributed to the success of immunisation programmes in the USA and Australia, yet the benefits from compulsory vaccination are not universally recognised. Some people--experts and the public alike--believe that the benefits of compulsory vaccination are outweighed by the associated ethical problems. A review of vaccination legislation in the UK, Australia, and the USA raises four main points. First, compulsory vaccination may be effective in preventing disease outbreaks, reaching and sustaining high immunisation coverage rates, and expediting the introduction of new vaccines. Second, to be effective, compulsory programmes must have a reliable supply of safe and effective vaccines and most people must be willing to be vaccinated. Third, allowance of exemptions to compulsory vaccination may limit public backlash. Finally, compulsory vaccination may increase the burden on governments to ensure the safety of vaccines. Nevertheless, although compulsory immunisation can be very effective, it might not be acceptable in some countries where high coverage has been achieved through other approaches or efforts, such as in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK. These factors should be considered when compulsory vaccinations are being introduced or immunisation laws refined. Lessons learned from compulsory vaccination could be useful to other public-health programmes.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Public Health / history
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Vaccination / history*
  • Vaccination / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Vaccination / trends