Police-powers let schools bar unvaccinated students, court says

Students suffered a chickenpox outbreak in a New York school. Administrators forced unvaccinated kids to stay home. Anti-vaccination parents objected in court. In January, in Phillips v. City of New York, the Second Circuit Court said schools barring unvaccinated children during a vaccine-preventable outbreak is “well within the State’s police power,” even if the decision trumps parents’ religious freedom to opt out their children.

Bringing the child-vaccination issue to the courts could have profound consequences, points out the New England Journal of Medicine. The debate raises questions: Who gets to decide to keep unvaccinated students from school? When is it okay? How will policies be enforced?

Plaintiffs wanted the court to decide whether vaccines cause the public more harm than good. The court refused, saying states can restrict citizens’ movement in order to protect public health; lawmakers must decide how important vaccination is to the public good, the court said.

The case raises questions in Colorado, where the nation’s lowest child-vaccination rates and a new school-vaccination-rate reporter have parents, health officials and vaccine activists debating the issue. In the state Legislature, some lawmakers hope to ban immunization opt-outs; others hope to protect them.


United States Department of Health and Human Services Image in the Public Domain