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Debate: Compulsory vaccination

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Revision as of 01:14, 11 June 2009

Should the state make vaccination compulsory?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Andraz Melansek. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Vaccines represent one of the most successful and effective interventions in medicine. By vaccinating people, society has been able to eradicate numerous diseases that caused millions of deaths before. A dramatic example is smallpox, which was responsible for some of the most formidable epidemics of humankind. In 1967 it was the cause of 2 million deaths; a decade later it was totally eradicated from the planet by a concerted global vaccination program. Many countries have thus made it compulsory for people to be vaccinated against various diseases. However, together with vaccination rose also anti-vaccination movements such as The Society of Anti-Vaccinationists (1798), The Anti-Vaccination League (1853), etc. Nowadays pharmaceutical companies are getting enormous profits from vaccination, states requires vaccination to prevent outbreaks of disease, and different interest groups promote either the option of free choice or of compulsory vaccination.

Public health: Does public health demand vaccinations?


  • Prevention is better than cure; vaccines are better than treatments. A vaccine is the best way to prevent an outbreak of a disease or to reduce its negative effects. Vaccinated people become immune to a certain pathogen and do not develop a disease. Although there are occasionally side effects, these affect only a tiny number of people compared to the protection offered to the vast majority.
  • Compulsory vaccination improves overall public health The child mortality rate is lower and the natality rate is higher, greater outbreaks of diseases are prevented. The overall health situation improves for all the people in a designated area. As for the claims made against vaccines, these are based upon irrational anti-science attitudes and media scare stories. There are many more likely causes of asthma and study after study has found that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective.
  • Vaccination is a natural way to strengthen the immune system. Through vaccination our immune system recognises the pathogens and develops a suitable response prior to being faced with the "real disease."
  • Compulsory vaccination has helped eradicate devastating diseases. These include small pox, polio, measles, etc. The numbers of people with the diseases decreased dramatically after the vaccine was introduced. With better vaccines, and more comprehensive and effective vaccination programmes, even more suffering and deaths could be prevented. Even if they do not trust their particular governments, people should believe the overwhelming weight of medical opinion and the backing of the World Health Organisation in favour of vaccination.


  • Many vaccines have serious and sometimes deadly side effects With many vaccines the immunity is not life-long. Sometimes the vaccines itself can cause a serious disease to develop as a side effect. If governments know that compulsory mass vaccination is likely to cause death or permanent disability in even a few cases, it is immoral for them to make it compulsory.
  • Rise in certain illnesses can be attributed to vaccines. These illnesses include ear infections, allergies, and asthma in children can be attributed (at least in part) to the damaging effects of vaccines. The incidence of asthma, the most serious and life threatening of these conditions has steadily increased in the modern era since the introduction of vaccines. In the UK controversy surrounds the use of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) triple vaccine, with many parents refusing vaccination for their children or insisting that they be vaccinated separately against the three illnesses.
  • Some vaccines include toxic materials. These chemicals include mercury, formaldehyde, aluminium, and a variety of other known toxic materials. Vaccines might be capable of causing recurrent infections in children because they weaken the immune system. Parents should have the right to choose on behalf of their children whether they should be vaccinated at all, or to choose vaccination against some diseases but not others.
  • Figures on efficacy of vaccines are doctored. Statistics are shown partially, diseases are falsely diagnosed and re-diagnosed, public scarce campaigns are organised by the protagonists of compulsory vaccination, etc., all of which results in unrepresentative data. After the CJD-BSE health disaster in the UK, and tragedies connected to the contamination of blood products in several countries, people no longer trust either governments or the scientific establishment to tell them the truth.
  • There are good alternatives to compulsory vaccination. Researches show that alternative approaches towards diseases such as better nutrition, homeopathy, etc. give very positive results. Healthier populations would not need vaccines to fight a disease. High profits that are now reserved only for the pharmaceutical industry would be spread to other areas of the economy, such as agriculture and the service sector, and more people would gain.

State authority: Does the state have authority to impose compulsory vaccinations?


  • The state has a right to impose compulsory vaccination: If an age group is protected, that results in a better health conditions for the whole society. In an industrialised country such as the USA, those choosing exemption from statutorily compulsory vaccination were 35-times more likely to contract measles than vaccinated persons; in developing countries where these viruses are still endemic, the risk would be considerably higher. Those who wish to opt-out of vaccination (often on behalf of their children, who have no say in the matter) are classic free riders, hoping to benefit from the more responsible behaviour of the rest of society. Unfortunately, irresponsible behaviour soon spreads and diseases which were once under control become endemic again; this can be seen with outbreaks of measles in parts of London where childhood vaccination rates have dropped sharply in recent years, resulting in unnecessary suffering and some deaths or permanent disabilities.


  • Compulsory vaccinations contradicts many religious beliefs. These individuals believe that God created the human body as a temple, and that the body should not be destroyed by injecting a virus into the body. By making vaccination compulsory, people's freedom to choose is curtailed and that is an infringement on human rights. In any case, it doesn't matter if a few people choose not to be vaccinated, as if the large majority of the population is protected from a disease, there will be too few carriers for it to become endemic, so the risk to those opting-out is very small.

Economics: Is compulsory vaccination economical?


  • Vaccination helps prevent negative economic effects of disease. Productivity rates remain high and less money is earmarked for social and health transfers because people are healthier. The developing world would benefit enormously from effective and compulsory vaccines against killer diseases such as AIDS and malaria, but irrational opposition to vaccination in developed countries makes it less likely that government resources and the attention of pharmaceutical companies will be targeted towards these goals.


  • Compulsory vaccinations programs are complicated and expensive. Vaccines themselves are expensive to develop in the lab and to mass produce for widespread compulsory vaccination programs. In addition to these upfront costs, organizing compulsory vaccination programs across an entire country can be very complicated and expensive. For instance, mechanisms must be set in place to ensure that the program is indeed compulsory, which means establishing a database of those that have and have not received the vaccine.

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