The Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence

Between Public Health and Parental Discretion

The Legal Regulation of Childhood Vaccination

31May2016 12:00 - 13:00


Paul Scholten Centre Colloquium with Roland Pierik (PSC). Discussant: Laura Burgers (Centre for the Study of European Contract Law, UvA)

Venue: Oudemanhuispoort, room C1.23

  • Oudemanhuispoort

    Oudemanhuispoort 4-6 | 1012 CN Amsterdam
    +31 (0)20 525 3361

    Go to detailpage

Research colloquium, organised by the Paul Scholten Centre. This colloquium is open to all, no registration required.

A copy of the paper can be obtained via


The 2015 Disneyland measles outbreak in California unequivocally brought to light what had been brewing below the surface for a while: a slow but steady decline in vaccination rates in Western societies, resulting the rise of measles outbreaks. This can be traced back to an increasing public questioning of vaccines by an emerging anti-vaccination movement. This paper discusses the legal regulation of childhood vaccination and starts from two conflicting maxims: first, government should provide protection against infectious diseases by devising active polices to maintain herd immunity, which could, ultimately, imply coercive interventions. Second, since vaccination interferes in one of the most sacred corners of the private sphere, government should seek to achieve the common good of herd immunity with as little interference in individual freedoms as possible. The aim of this paper is to determine how these maxims should be balanced.

I will argue that, although state coercion is legitimate when it is necessary to protect herd immunity, it might not be necessary or even prudent to legally enforce childhood vaccination in all situations. In those situations where robust and undiminished herd immunity is assured as a positive externality of voluntary vaccination, there are good normative and pragmatic reasons to forgo mandatory programs. I will propose a contextual method defending a legal regime that guarantees robust herd immunity, but is fine-tuned to the specific societal context so that it can be implemented in the least intrusive way possible.


Published by  Paul Scholten Centre