Is It Legal to Not Vaccinate Your Kids?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 13, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Vaccinations have become a contentious, hotly debated topic in parenting and medical circles. But there are also legal questions regarding the legality of not vaccinating children.

These questions are being raised after a recent outbreak of measles at California's Disneyland theme park. The outbreak, which involves more than two dozen cases of the deadly disease, includes a number of children who were not vaccinated against the disease. Of the 16 California cases where the vaccination status of the infected person is known, 12 of those sickened were not vaccinated against measles, reports Forbes.

Is it legal for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children?

Vaccinations Required for School Attendance

All 50 states and Washington, D.C., require that school-aged children receive vaccinations before starting school. Although these laws vary by state, they generally require children age 4 or older who are entering school to be vaccinated against a number of illnesses including measles as part of a measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

However, in every state and the District of Columbia, parents may also be granted an exemption from vaccination requirements for their children. Although the available exemptions vary by state, parents may generally be granted an exemption for one of three reasons: philosophical, medical, or religious.

The vaccination requirement and exemption for your state can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

There may also be the possibility that the parent of an unvaccinated child may be legally liable for causing illness in another person. However, proving that a parent was negligent in failing to vaccinate his or her child may be difficult. Beyond establishing that the parent owed a legal duty to the plaintiff, the plaintiff in any negligence suit would also be required to determine the exact source of their own illness in order to prove fault.

To learn more about required vaccinations, exemptions, and other issues involving school children, head over to FindLaw's section on School Safety.

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