Parents who choose to not vaccinate their children against preventable diseases put the health of other children at risk. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause recognizes the right to personal liberty as would be the case in choosing not to vaccinate. However, this Amendment might not always exempt that non-vaccinating parent from liability for the personal injuries their child could unwittingly incur on others.
Why Parents Choose Not to Vaccinate
In Indiana, parents can choose not to vaccinate their children if they have a religious objection. To claim a religious exemption, the parent would be required to file and sign an exemption in writing and deliver it to his or her child’s school. Indiana also allows medical exemptions where a doctor has recommended that a child not is immunized because the risk to its health outweighs the benefits of immunization. This could be the case with a child who suffers from a depressed immune system.
Indiana’s Requirements for Immunizing Children
The Indiana State Department of Health requires that children be immunized against:
- Whooping cough
Additionally, kids are required to be immunized against polio, meningitis, hepatitis B, and chicken pox.
Unintended Consequences of Not Vaccinating Children
Unfortunately, the right to personal liberty should not infringe on the right of others to be protected from illness. Vaccinating children against preventable diseases has reduced the risk of epidemics from those diseases. In the past, outbreaks have occurred in unvaccinated religious enclaves, including Amish communities. But metropolitan areas are seeing an upswing in the number of children contracting measles, including Ohio, California and New York. As the number of children vaccinated slips below the needed 90 to 95 percent of compliance to prevent an outbreak.
Children who are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting otherwise preventable diseases that could cause serious complications, including pneumonia, swelling of the brain, deafness or death. But before they begin to exhibit signs of the illness, the may have already exposed other children at school, in their play groups or infants that are too young to receive their complete immunizations.
It is not just children that are a risk. Pregnant women can transmit the measles virus to their unborn children, which is known to cause serious birth defects. The elderly or other adults with compromised immune systems are also at risk for illness or even death because the effectiveness of their prior immunizations declines with age.