Background: During outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, compulsory vaccination is sometimes discussed as a last resort to counter vaccine refusal. Besides ethical arguments, however, empirical evidence on the consequences of making selected vaccinations compulsory is lacking. Such evidence is needed to make informed public health decisions. This study therefore assesses the effect of partial compulsory vaccination on the uptake of other voluntary vaccines.
Method: A total of 297 ( N ) participants took part in an online experiment that simulated two sequential vaccination decisions using an incentivized behavioural vaccination game. The game framework bases on epidemiological, psychological and game-theoretical models of vaccination. Participants were randomized to the compulsory vaccination intervention ( n = 144) or voluntary vaccination control group ( n = 153), which determined the decision architecture of the first of two decisions. The critical second decision was voluntary for all participants. We also assessed the level of anger, vaccination attitude and perceived severity of the two diseases.
Results: Compulsory vaccination increased the level of anger among individuals with a rather negative vaccination attitude, whereas voluntary vaccination did not. This led to a decrease in vaccination uptake by 39% in the second voluntary vaccination (reactance).
Conclusion: Making only selected vaccinations compulsory can have detrimental effects on the vaccination programme by decreasing the uptake of voluntary vaccinations. As this effect occurred especially for vaccine hesitant participants, the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy within a society will influence the damage of partial compulsory vaccination.