A defense of compulsory vaccination

HEC Forum. 2014 Mar;26(1):5-25. doi: 10.1007/s10730-013-9221-5.


Vaccine refusal harms and risks harming innocent bystanders. People are not entitled to harm innocents or to impose deadly risks on others, so in these cases there is nothing to be said for the right to refuse vaccination. Compulsory vaccination is therefore justified because non-vaccination can rightly be prohibited, just as other kinds of harmful and risky conduct are rightly prohibited. I develop an analogy to random gunfire to illustrate this point. Vaccine refusal, I argue, is morally similar to firing a weapon into the air and endangering innocent bystanders. By re-framing vaccine refusal as harmful and reckless conduct my aim is to shift the focus of the vaccine debate from non-vaccinators' religious and refusal rights to everyone else's rights against being infected with contagious illnesses. Religious freedom and rights of informed consent do not entitle non-vaccinators to harm innocent bystanders, and so coercive vaccination requirements are permissible for the sake of the potential victims of the anti-vaccine movement.

MeSH terms

  • Civil Rights
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Informed Consent
  • Mandatory Programs / ethics*
  • Mandatory Programs / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Risk Management
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Treatment Refusal
  • United States
  • Vaccination / ethics*