Issues Library—Parental Rights

Mandatory Vaccination Laws and Your Family


Background

State laws mandating vaccinations and immunizations are not new. Since the late 18th century, immunizations and inoculations have been used by state governments to control disease. In the United States, the first law providing for vaccinations originated in Massachusetts in 1809 with the Cow Pox Inoculation Act.

As immigration increased in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, many states began to create compulsory vaccination laws in response to the increasing frequency of outbreaks. Compulsory vaccination laws have been held constitutional under the landmark Supreme Court decision of Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905).

Exemptions

In many states, mandatory vaccination laws are tied to education laws. In some states, for a child to attend a public or private school, he or she will need to demonstrate compliance with mandatory vaccine laws. This requirement has been put in place to protect students and teachers from dangerous diseases.

Even though all 50 states have mandatory immunization laws, every state has also created certain exemptions for families. These exemptions usually fall into one of the following categories: medical exemption, religious exemption, or philosophical exemption to mandatory vaccination laws.

  • Religious/Philosophical:
    Some parents have sincerely held religious or philosophical objections to immunizations. In states where such objections can exempt families from having to immunize their children, the process for claiming this exemption ranges from filling out a simple form to writing a letter.
  • Medical:
    Medical exemptions usually cover situations in which an individual risks an adverse reaction to a vaccine. States with medical exemptions often require that individuals obtain a letter from a doctor that states why an individual is unable to receive a vaccine or why a vaccine would be physically harmful.

Conclusion

Every state in the U.S. has mandatory immunization laws. It is important for families to make sure that they are in compliance with their state’s laws. It is equally important for each family to closely research recommended immunizations, talk with their health care provider, and make the decision that will best protect the health and safety of their children.

Lawmakers should take parental rights and public health into account when crafting laws that deal with immunizations. All states allow for some form of medical exemption, and many states allow for some form of religious or philosophical exemptions.

We encourage HSLDA’s members who have questions about their state’s laws on mandatory immunizations to contact HSLDA legal department for more information by calling us at 540-338-5600.

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