Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto: Balancing Civil Liberties and Public Health Interventions in Modern Vaccination Policy


Vaccine policy still stirs up similar contentions and controversial sentiments today as it did in 1905 due to the enduring tension between public health interventions and individual liberties, between the rights of the individual and the claims of the collective. This Note considers the rationale for granting vaccine exemptions in one case, but withholding them in another; why one court gives substantial deference to state power regarding vaccination, and another demonstrates considerable regard for civil liberties in vaccine policy.

It has been suggested that pragmatism and political acuity, rather than a doctrinal adherence to epidemiological theory or ethical principles has guided vaccine policy into achieving its current level of success. This Note considers that in order to maintain and improve on this level of success, the crucial issues of advancements in scientific and medical knowledge, changes in the role of government institutions, and evolving constitutional law jurisprudence must inform vaccine policymaking to effectively safeguard the public’s health while simultaneously preserving the sanctity of individual rights.


Jacobson v. Massachusetts, Vaccination, Vaccine policy, Civil liberties, Natural rights, Jeremy Bentham, Social contract theory, Utilitarianism, Public health, John Stuart Mill, Libertarianism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke



Phoebe E. Arde-Acquah (Washington University School of Law)



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