Amsterdam Research Institute for Legal Studies

Faculty Seminar: Mandatory vaccination between the precautionary principle and the principle of proportionality

21Mar2018 12:00 - 13:00


We will discuss a paper by Roland Pierik, Associate Professor of Legal Philosophy. Johan Legemaate, Professor of Health Law, will introduce the paper.

Recent measles outbreaks in Europe and North America brought to light what has been brewing below the surface for a while: a slow but steady decline in vaccination rates, resulting in an increasing number of pockets of under-vaccination. In the face of the recent outbreaks, several states have tightened their vaccination obligations, for example by limiting the option of non-medical exceptions (2015 California); by cutting off non-vaccinating parents from family assistance payments (2016 Australia); or by introducing straightforward vaccination obligations (2017 Italy, France).

In an earlier paper (Pierik, 2017a) I argued that there is sufficient principled ground to defend unqualified mandatory childhood vaccination programs. However, unconditional programs are disproportionate intrusive in societies with successful voluntary programs. Moreover, certain parents might reject to subject their child to vaccination programs with the mere aim to protect the collective good of herd immunity. Such hesitant parents might be more open to (mandatory) vaccination programs when it can be shown that these are in the best interest of their child. This paper takes these reservations onboard and develops an argument for vaccination programs that is justified in terms of the best interests of the child involved. 

I argue that shifting the focus to a best-interests analysis does not ipso facto settle the debate because different actors in the debate have different ideas on how these best interests must be conceptualized. But it does redirect the focus to the core issue in this debate: who should ultimately settle what the best interests of children are? I argue that not parents but the government should have the final say in these matters. Moreover, I conclude that a conditional mandatory program is indeed in the best interests of the child involved. And in determining under which conditions mandatory vaccination is justified, the rights of parents to raise their children in they see fit must be weighed against the right of children to have their health protected against the dangers of infective diseases. The answer ultimately requires a contextual balancing between two legal principles: the principle of proportionality and the precautionary principle. 


The faculty seminar will be held on Wednesday 21 March from 12:00 to 13:00 (incl. lunch) in the Faculty Room on the 7th floor of REC A. We will discuss a paper by Roland Pierik, Associate Professor of Legal Philosophy. Johan Legemaate, Professor of Health Law, will introduce the paper. Please, register via before Thursday 15 March so lunch can be pre-ordered.

Faculty Room on the 7th floor of REC A

  • Roeterseilandcampus - building A

    Nieuwe Achtergracht 166 | 1018 WV Amsterdam
    +31 (0)20 525 5340

    Go to detailpage

Published by  ARILS