Is Getting Your Child Vaccinated Mandatory?

Vaccinations have eliminated some serious childhood diseases such as diphtheria and whooping cough in the U.S., according to Some parents and a few health experts, however, contend that vaccinations are unnecessary and that the risk of side effects outweigh any benefits. Although the federal government does not mandate vaccine administration, all states have vaccination requirements for children who enter public or private schools. Many states also require vaccinations for entry to licensed day care and colleges.

Vaccination Pros and Cons

Parents avoid vaccinating their children for a number of reasons. Some believe that vaccinations cause conditions such as autism or that the potential for side effects is too high. Others object to vaccinations on religious grounds. A parent might be willing to allow some vaccinations, such as tetanus, but want to refuse others -- such as the human papilloma virus vaccine -- because long-term effects are unknown. Many medical workers, however, contend that vaccines should be mandated to prevent epidemics and increase “herd immunity” -- a sufficient number of immunized people to prevent widespread infectious disease, according to 1.

State Laws Vary

Because each state is allowed to regulate the administration of vaccines, laws vary from one state to another, according to a May 2009 article in the “New England Journal of Medicine.” The article notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has found vaccination requirements to be both legal and constitutional. Variations in immunization laws, however, might include:

  • the school grades covered
  • which vaccines are required
  • the ways in which new vaccines are introduced
  • exemption types
  • the procedures under which a parent can refuse vaccination

Reasons for vaccination exemptions also vary by state but generally include medical reasons, religious reasons and philosophical or personal beliefs.

Medical Exemptions

All states allow medical exemptions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in some cases, certain people should definitely not receive vaccinations 3. Medical exemptions to vaccination include children whose immune systems are compromised, who have allergic reactions to ingredients in the vaccine or who have a moderate to severe illness at the time the vaccination is due, according to an August 2002 article published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In most cases, a letter or other form of documentation from the child’s physician is sufficient to allow a medical exemption.

Other Exemptions

Religious exemptions for immunization are permitted in 48 of the 50 states, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 4. Mississippi and West Virginia do not permit immunization refusal on religious grounds, however. Nineteen of the 50 states allow immunization refusal based on philosophical and personal grounds. Many states will not deny an exemption request based on philosophical or personal reasons, however.