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Ethnicities. 2017 Apr;17(2):220-241. doi: 10.1177/1468796817692629. Epub 2017 Mar 9.

On religious and secular exemptions: A case study of childhood vaccination waivers.

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Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence, Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


This paper analyses exemptions to general law through the prism of vaccine waivers in the United States. All US states legally require the vaccination of children prior to school or daycare entry; however, this obligation is accompanied with a system of medical, religious, and/or philosophical exemptions. Nonmedical exemptions became subject of discussion after the 2015 Disneyland measles outbreak in California, which 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 in the reoccurrence of measles outbreaks. This can be traced back to an increasing public questioning of vaccines by a growing anti-vaccination movement. In reaction to the outbreak and the public outrage it generated, several states proposed-and some already passed-bills to eliminate nonmedical exemptions. I analyze two questions. First, can legal exemptions from mandatory childhood vaccination schemes for parents who are opposed to vaccination (still) be justified? Second, should legal exemptions be limited to religious objections to vaccination, or should they also be granted to secular objections? Although the argument in the paper starts from the example of the US, it seeks to provide a more general philosophical reflection on the question of exemptions from mandatory childhood vaccination.


Childhood vaccination; Disney measles outbreak; accommodation; conscientious objections; legal exemption; liberalism; measles; measles–mumps–rubella vaccine; toleration

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