Rebecca Bredow is a mother in Michigan, who refuses to let her son be vaccinated, in violation of an agreement with her ex-husband, the boy's father. Her refusal to comply with a court ordering her to do so is about to land her in jail.

The NVIC claims that parents have been jailed before for refusing their child to be vaccinated.

Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the non-profit National Vaccine Information Center, told the BBC this is not the first time a parent has been jailed for refusing to vaccinate a child.

"Michigan mother jailed for refusing to vaccinate her son", BBC News

Has that happened before the current case of Rebecca Bredow?

Have parents in the USA been jailed for refusing their child(ren) to be vaccinated?

The NVIC is an organisation in the USA, calling itself "national" so assuming that at least one of the four words in their name is correct, it's not unreasonable to assume they're referring to parents in the USA, even though they don't claim this explicitly.

One could argue that the mother was/is/will be jailed for refusing to comply with a court order rather than for refusing to vaccinate, but the court order was for her to have her kid vaccinated, so it's a reasonable summary.

I've had to alert a Dutch news agency to the fact that the NVIC is not a governmental agency, but an anti-vaccine lobby group. They've now adjusted their news article, but still repeat this claim.

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    @Shadur No, the court order was that the father was the one making decisions about the child's welfare (for whatever reasons which we know nothing about). He decided that the child should be vaccinated, and the mother was jailed for refusing to comply with the father's wishes. If the father hadn't wanted the child vaccinated then nothing would have happened here.. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 13:40
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    @Shadur - no, I disagree. It's entirely about violating the agreement. If the father also didn't want vaccinations, or it was not part of the agreement that his wishes be followed in matters of health care decisions, then she would not be in jail. That makes it not about vaccination. It is entirely about the agreement. If she refused to get him a new stuffed teddy bear every Equinox, as agreed upon, she'd be in jail for that. The court is not weighing in on this as a matter of health care responsibilities. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 13:52
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    @DavePhD - your point is actually more salient than our discussion about the case that triggered this question, because of the wording of the question, which is asking about other cases and policies. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 13:55
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    @SBQ - It's certainly framed that way...... by an anti-vax organization, looking for opportunities to frame their beliefs as oppressed and their followers as martyrs, so to what degree to we accept that as objective fact? But, yes, as I mentioned, this discussion is actually a tangent from what was asked. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 14:51
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    @PoloHoleSet We obviously shouldn't accept that as fact, but regarding this question, we do have to decide if we temporarily accept the definition from the NVIC in this context ("jailed for" = "not really jailed for, but somewhat related to"). If we don't accept that definition, OPs source already answers the question ("The federal government does not legislate child immunisation"). I think we should accept it though (the claim could be rephrased as "There have been similar cases to this one in the past"). Either way, an answer should make it clear what exactly people are jailed for.
    – tim
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:13

1 Answer 1


According to Pox and Liberty, endnote 65 of chapter 4:

This article describes examples from New York in the 1920s involving parents who were jailed for refusing to have their children vaccinated.

Dr. Shelton's Hygienic Review, March 1940, says:

John Marsh...who lives in Cumberland County, Pa., has served many terms in prison for refusing to consent to the vaccination of his boy against smallpox.


The other case is that of Earl B. Allison, of Mercer County, Pa., who has spent a considerable amount of time in the Mercer County jail for refusing to consent to the vaccination of his boy against smallpox.

The 3 November 1939 Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette reported on the Allison case:

Earl B. Allison's refusal to have his son vaccinated so the lad could attend school brought him a jail sentence of 20 days. Sheriff Clyde B. Scowden said today the man was taking his imprisonment just like any other prisoner, eating regularly and spending his time reading newspapers and magazines. Failure to send nine-year-old Earl Jr., to school resulted in Allison's arrest four times. He was sent to jail after the school board announced it had given him a chance to pay $85 in fines or appeal.

State of Immunity: The Politics of Vaccination in Twentieth-Century America, endnote 77 of page 275, gives 3 newspaper references from January of 1936 concerning a Newark father being sentence to $50 fine plus one month in jail, but agreeing to vaccinate after being sentenced.

The 14 November 2007 Washington Post article Get Kids Vaccinated Or Else, Parents Told explains:

The parents of more than 2,300 Prince George's County students who failed to get needed vaccinations could face fines of $50 a day and up to 10 days in jail if their children do not meet the state's immunization requirements, county officials said yesterday.
Parents who do not appear could face fines of $50 for each day they fail to get their children immunized after being charged. They also could serve up to 10 days in jail.

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    Any evidence that Prince George's County jailed or fined any parents for noncompliance?
    – user11643
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:42
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    The others are historically interesting, but the nature of the topic has changed since then.
    – user11643
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:43
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    Have people in the 2007 case actually been jailed? Or were there only threats that they might be? And would they technically have been jailed for not vaccinating, or for failing to attend school (because the school wouldn't let them in without vaccination)? Also note that it appears that there was a religious exemption to the threat. If people were actually jailed, it would still answer the question, but the exemption and the technical reasons for jailing do seem somewhat relevant.
    – tim
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:50
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    @fredsbend These supreme court decisions: supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/197/11/case.html and supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/260/174/case.html from a hundred years ago are what is important. Unless they are overtuned, the topic hasn't changed in a relevant way.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:54
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    Regarding the reasons for jailing: This NYT article says that the second letter to parents was "strongly recommending" vaccinations (which doesn't sound like that much of a threat), and that the first letter was warning parents that "if their children were not attending school, they might be subject to criminal charges with a maximum penalty of 10 days in jail and a fine of $50 per day of absence". I guess that that is still comparable to the case in the claim, but you might want to edit your answer to make this clear.
    – tim
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 16:03

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