The legal difficulties of regulating vaccines

| Mar 10, 2020 | Personal injury |

Vaccinations are in the spotlight once again in Connecticut. The Public Health Committee is currently considering a bill concerning the rights of parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. As legislators attempt to determine what is best for Connecticut schools, parents worry about the potential health risks to their children.

Since each state determines its own vaccine laws, Connecticut will have to come up with its own solution — the Federal government cannot regulate vaccinations, only recommend thresholds and how to maintain them. So how can Connecticut parents protect their children if others refuse vaccination?

Are parents who refuse to vaccinate negligent?

There are no recorded cases of a parent suing another for negligence in vaccinating their child — at least, not yet. Though many states have legal exemptions for parents who refuse vaccinations, none rule out lawsuits. Arthur Caplan, a prominent bioethicist, argued in a 2014 paper that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are not acting with reasonable care. In other words, parents are free to not vaccinate their children, but if their choices harm others, they may be liable.

Some critics of those refusing vaccination believe this could be the most effective way to control the new spread of diseases like measles.

The barriers to legal relief

Parents or children who have suffered because of the choices of others might be due restitution, but not without difficulty. A few legal barriers stand in their way:

  • No one has tried yet: Someone must be the first to risk trying their case in front of a jury. Win or lose, the case will set a precedent. The case would need a strong argument, solid evidence and a confident lawyer.
  • Proving the point of infection: It may be very difficult to prove the circumstances of infection, since it likely occurred in a public place with other people around. Experts believe organizations like the CDC can easily track an infection vector, but using that technology in a small claims case could be prohibitively expensive.
  • Enacting real change: A lawsuit might help victims and their parents receive relief, but there’s little evidence to suggest it might inspire real change among anti-vaxxers. Some believe it may only isolate them further.

The legal future of vaccines

It’s likely only a matter of time before a marquee case exposes this largely untraversed legal area. If it happens, it stands to considerably change the legal landscape of vaccines. Parents with legal questions about their child’s potential exposure to a disease should seek an attorney’s consultation.