Should names of unvaccinated be publicized?

Should there be a scarlet letter for parents who don’t vaccinate their children?

A post from commentator Joe Mathews pushes the continuing debate into a new realm today. He advocates publicizing the names and addresses of families with unvaccinated children.

That response may sound harsh and insufficiently sensitive to privacy. But for better and for worse, it fits the obligations of 21st century childrearing. As a parent myself, I’m repeatedly reminded—by doctors, nurses, public officials, schools, and the dozens of legal waivers that daily life requires me to sign—that I am required to know everything I can about my kids. I’m supposed to know where they are at all times, and to monitor every minute of exercise and each spoonful of sugar. I’m supposed to find out everything I can about the kids they hang out with, and I’m supposed to monitor all their online movements. It’s no coincidence that most successful public service announcement series in America, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is NBC’s “The More You Know.”

There are other good ideas out there for putting pressure on parents who don’t vaccinate. You could hand out stickers or buttons to all vaccinated schoolchildren—creating a social pressure on those who don’t. Laws could permit insurers to raise the premiums of those who don’t vaccinate (right now, insurers can only set rates based on age, geography and tobacco use). A new tort could be created to permit people who incur medical and other costs because of an outbreak to sue and recover damages from the unvaccinated. I particularly like a proposal from Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a law professor at UC Hastings, to charge a significant fee for vaccine exemptions to cover the costs of an outbreak.

That certainly pushes the debate further into the question of rights, which up to now has mostly focused on the rights of parents to say “no.”