Introduction to Vaccine Exemptions
mandated in the United States, one or more exemptions are allowed.
Everywhere vaccines are
mandated, at least some
people may be eligible to refuse them legally without penalty.
Exceptions to vaccine mandates fall into three basic categories:
1. Medical: Available anywhere vaccines are required, but can be difficult to get. Usually requires a recommendation from a
licensed medical doctor. In some situations, authorities can deny medical
exemptions even when recommended by a licensed medical
Available in most situations where vaccines are required, except for
school and daycare in CA, WV, and MS. Procedure varies from state to
state or context to context.
3. Personal or
Philosophical: Available in about 16 states for daycare and grade school, and in Maine for healthcare workers.
may not apply in
emergency situations. See the Pandemic
for more information on this.
YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY?
one is required to hire an attorney to exercise a legal right. However,
making informed decisions requires having a sufficient understanding of
your rights, and there are few short-answer vaccine exemption
questions. Vaccine exemption and waiver law is more
complicated than most people realize. Many
people end up
spending a lot of money paying an attorney to try to get them out of a
problem that they could have avoided altogether if
they had only consulted an attorney ahead of time.
The two best ways to make informed decisions on vaccine
exemptions and waivers are to consult an
attorney, and/or purchase The Authoritative
Guide to Vaccine
Legal Exemptions e-book. Beware
of Internet advice. Even highly
reputable sites, including those of alternative medical doctors and
vaccine book authors,
provide information about vaccine rights that is usually a mixture of
accurate and inaccurate information. Some who have relied on
anti-vaccine websites have
lost exemption rights unnecessarily. If it doesn't come from an
experienced in this area of the law, beware!
Phillips has assisted clients and other attorneys around the country
exemption and waiver matters.
Exemptions - Public, Private, Homeschools
Whether or not state exemption laws apply to
private schools and homeschools depends on the specific wording of each
state's laws. For example, in 2006, the Texas State Attorney General
issued an opinion
concluding that Texas law doesn't require private schools to accept
religious exemptions unless the school receives state funding (though I question the analysis used). In
contrast, North Carolina's religious exemption law does apply to all
Don't use a
form unless your state requires and provides one. Otherwise, you
not be in compliance with your state's law. Don't copy exemption
letters from the Internet--legal precedent says this is
"insincere" and a basis for rejecting the exemption.
Understanding your rights requires a careful
reading of applicable statutes, regulations, and legal precedent.
Reviewing your states'
laws is a good starting
point. The Authoritative
Guide to Vaccine
Legal Exemptions contains a
summary of legal precedent, and
information about how and when it applies. This will help you
understand where the boundaries of your
rights are, under the specific facts and circumstances of your life,
your particular jurisdiction (geographical location). If you
have any doubts, consult
and Foreign Adoption
States Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS) requires immigrants, including children adopted from foreign
countries, to be vaccinated. However, this requirement can be waived
for objections based on religious beliefs and moral convictions
(which really means religious beliefs).
This requires form I-601 (I-602 for refugees), Application for Waiver of Ground of
Inadmissibility, which has a
$930 application fee (no fee for refugees), and an affidavit that must be customized for each
applicant. The USCIS generally interviews waiver applicants.
Working with an experienced
recommended. The USCIS manual requires details not
addressed in the regulations. One can follow the letter of the
regulations and still be rejected. Knowing what to include and
exclude in the application; how to prepare your affidavit,
statement of religious beliefs, and other relevant documents; and how
to handle the interview
can make the difference in whether or not the application is approved.
what kinds of beliefs qualify and
why, and other important considerations are available in The Authoritative Guide to Vaccine
- Members, Families, Schools,
and Civilian Contractors
Article: Navy revises vaccine exemption policy
and regs by
attorney request - twice!,
Natural News, April 26, 2011
Military regulations offer military members
administrative exemptions, the latter of which includes religious
exemptions. Religious exemptions are also available to
military families, children in military schools, and
civilian military contractors. Different regulations and laws may apply
to each of these different areas; e.g., military members and schools
are governed by Department of Defense reguations, while military
contractors' religious objections fall under federal statutes and
civilian civil rights regulations.
For military members, the exemption can be
withdrawn if the mission is deemed to require that. Presumably, denial
of an exemption application or withdrawal of a previously granted
exemption would most likely occur when stationed outside the U.S. or in
any location where
infectious diseases are considered to pose a high risk--e.g.,
and war-torn countries.
Military personnel cannot be vaccinated while a
decision on a exemption application is pending.
There are some branch-specific variations. Strict
adherence to the applicable regulations is necessary to ensure that
proper procedure is followed and all requirements are properly
presented. Care should be take to ensure that your statement
of religious beliefs includes appropriate information
and details and
excludes anything that is not needed or that could undermine your
exemption claim. For these reasons, an experienced
is recommended. Information about what kinds of beliefs
qualify and why, and other details, are provided in The
Authoritative Guide to Vaccine Legal
When separated or divorced parents disagree over
whether or not to vaccinate their children, most attorneys and judges
are likely to view the dispute as a "no brainer"--of course the "best
interests of the child" requires the children to be
vaccinated. This stems from a misunderstanding of the fact that an
exempt child poses no threat, legally or medically, to himself or the
community. Medically, the herd immunity theory supports this
assumption. Legally, if the exercise of a legal exemption would cause a
significant health risk for anyone, the state legislature would not
have enacted the exemption law in the first place. But few family law
attorneys or judges get to this part of the analysis, stopping instead
at the "best interests" assessment.
Pro-exemption parents often have strong legal
rights that can win in these disputes. But family law attorneys
familiar with the applicable law and legal arguments often
pursue a losing strategy.
potentially several different levels to the legal analysis in
cases. A proper assessment depends on the applicable state
federal law as well as the specific facts in each case. Therefore,
experienced in this arena is
highly recommended. Custody cases can be heavily
fact-dependant, and vaccine custody disputes are often entangled with
other custody matters such as which parent should have health or
religious decision-making authority for the children generally.
Authoritative Guide to Vaccine Legal
contains a detailed overview of the
various potential components of a
complete analysis. Attorney Phillips is also available to work with you
and your family law attorney, and has done so successfully with
attorneys in several states assisting clients and attorneys in vaccine
Most states require immunizations for college
students. Some have separate exemption laws, while others have one set
of exemption laws that apply to all schools, including post-secondary
College students in healthcare curriculums that
require them to do clincal work in local hospitals or other healthcare
facilities may have a more complicated situation. Those facilities may
require vaccines of their employees and students doing clinical work as
a matter of institutional policy, and not state law. Where that's the
case, state exemption laws may not be helpful.
There is law in about a dozen states that can help
students with religious-based objections (what qualifies is broad, but
there are legal pitfalls as well). See the page on healthcare
for more on this.
According to this article,
AL, CO, CT, FL, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY,
VT, VA and WI all
have medical exemption clauses for sick anminals in their
rabies laws. More recently (winter 2012), the American Veterinary
Medical Association (AVMA) approved a policy change supporting waivers for rabies
vaccination where the shot may pose an unacceptably high risk to the
health of the individual animal, or where a waiver might be necessary
for research purposes.
generally considered to be property
under the law, and so would not be covered under exemption laws for
See also this section of the Resource page of the Pandemic
Response Project website for more on pets and vaccines.
Exemption rights can change dramatically during a
declared emergency. In most states, emergency vaccines can be mandated
with only medical exemptions, or even no exemptions at all, once
declare a state of emergency. Furthermore,
whether exemptions are allowed
or not, during a declared emergency, those who are exempt or refuse
mandatory vaccines can be
quarantined in government facilities against their will in most states.
For more on this and what you can do about it, see the Pandemic
International travel vaccines are regulated by the World
Health Organization's International Health Regulations. The CDC
recommends many vaccines, but the only required vaccines are yellow
fever, for travelers going in and out of countries in sub-Saharan
Africa and tropical South America. Requirements are discussed on
the CDC website here (scroll down to "Required Vacciations"), and
there is a link to individual country requirements there as well.
Note that "recommended" may be something different from "required."