Liberty, Fairness and the ‘Contribution Model’ for Non-medical Vaccine Exemption Policies: A Reply to Navin and Largent

Public Health Ethics 10 (3) (2017)
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In a paper recently published in this journal, Navin and Largent argue in favour of a type of policy to regulate non-medical exemptions from childhood vaccination which they call ‘Inconvenience’. This policy makes it burdensome for parents to obtain an exemption to child vaccination, for example, by requiring parents to attend immunization education sessions and to complete an application form to receive a waiver. Navin and Largent argue that this policy is preferable to ‘Eliminationism’, i.e. to policies that do not allow non-medical exemptions, because Inconvenience has been shown to maintain exemption rates low while not harming parents by forcing them to do something that goes against their beliefs. We argue that it is at least doubtful that Inconvenience is ethically preferable to Eliminationism: while the latter disregards the value of liberty, Inconvenience disregards the value of fairness in the distribution of the burdens entailed by the preservation of a public good like herd immunity. We propose a variant of Inconvenience, which we call ‘Contribution’, which we think is preferable to the versions of Inconvenience discussed by Navin and Largent in that it successfully strikes a balance between the values of parents’ liberty, fairness and expected utility.
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