It's been suggested that the anti-vaccination movement can be slowed down or halted through tougher laws and/or peer pressure—but what would happen if parents of kids who get infected from someone who isn't immunized sued the disease-spreader? A paper published in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy last year suggested just that, the Atlantic notes, saying that parents of kids who get infected through no fault of their own—e.g., if they're too young for vaccination or have medical reasons that prevent it—shouldn't have to suffer "the insult of financial ruin on top of the injury from the disease." Paper author Dorit Rubinstein Reiss points out that parents who opt not to vaccinate should bear the responsibility of that decision by paying financially if another child becomes sick as a result of their actions. Although many states offer vaccination exemptions, that wouldn't necessarily preempt a lawsuit, she adds.
"The fact that behavior is legal does not mean you're not negligent to engage in it—and if you're negligent and someone is hurt, in our system you usually have to pay," Reiss tells Noah Berlatsky, writing for the Atlantic. "It's legal to have a stack of hay in your yard, but if it's a fire hazard and you start a fire, you may be liable." One issue with Reiss' suggestion, Berlatsky points out, is that it can be difficult to prove one person directly infected another. An Indiana health policy professor adds that lawsuits will "undermine trust in the public-health system, probably won't increase the number of people taking up vaccination, and create a dangerous precedent"—anti-vaxxers may simply dig in their heels and stand their ground. Still, Reiss believes it's an idea worth considering: "My point is an ethical one." (Read one dad's plea to parents who are against immunization.)