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Politicians and Epidemics in the Bible Belt


Geurt Henk Spruyt

Utrecht University School of Law
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The Netherlands has a high vaccination coverage, but due to a concentration of people objecting to vaccination on religious grounds in the Bible belt, several polio and measles epidemics have occurred there in the past. This article analyses how and in what way Dutch politicians responded to parents refusing to have their children vaccinated. First, during these epidemics Members of Parliament mainly addressed written questions of a highly technical or procedural nature to the responsible State Secretary or Minister of Public Health. Secondly, the government always requested advice from an advisory body with regard to matters of health after an epidemic. These reports were opposed to mandatory vaccination mainly by using practical arguments. However, by advocating the idea of strengthening the position of minors in public healthcare these reports contributed to legislation codifying the rights of minors concerning public health. The most important rationale behind this response is the complexity of the issue of mandatory vaccination, because different human rights are involved. On the one hand, mandatory vaccination infringes the constitutional rights to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and encroaches on parental autonomy. On the other hand, children have a right to physical integrity. To find a way out of this unsolvable dilemma, the government and its advisory bodies mainly used practical arguments against mandatory vaccination.
How to Cite: Spruyt, G.H., 2016. Politicians and Epidemics in the Bible Belt. Utrecht Law Review, 12(2), pp.114–126. DOI:
Published on 02 Jul 2016.


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