Being a libertarian and supporting mandatory vaccinations is inherently contradictory upon first glance. Within the first line of the Libertarian Party platform is evidence enough: “[N]o one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” However, the benefit of others does not equal the right to commit bioterrorism across the country. Further down in the LP platform reads “…and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.” When a person refuses to vaccinate, they not only put themselves at risk, but every person they come in contact with. They force their own unethical principals on hundreds of people on a daily basis.
Vaccination has been proven to be safer than the diseases they prevent. It would be impossible to say that vaccinations are completely safe, but any harm attributed to a vaccine occurs in lower concentrations than the viruses in nature. The most common adverse reaction to the vaccine is a simple allergy. The viruses from which vaccines are derived are cultivated in ovo, or chicken eggs. Allergies to eggs are the second most common allergy. The reactions can be as simple as slight swelling to anaphylactic shock. Since vaccines are required to be administered in a facility designed to treat anaphylactic shock, even that risk is limited.
The commonly cited Wakefield paper attributing the MMR vaccine was retracted for fraudulent data, insufficient control size, and Wakefield was convicted of ethical violations (The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud). Very rarely, a live attenuated vaccine can cause the very illness it is intended to prevent. However those vaccines are more effective because they more closely mimic the virus. Guillain-Barré paralysis (GBS) has been linked with the influenza vaccine, at a rate of 3 infections out of 1 million vaccinations. For a comparison, GBS is linked to influenza infections at a rate of 5% (Simulation Study of the Effect of Influenza and Influenza Vaccination on Risk of Acquiring Guillain-Barré Syndrome).
Antivaxers like to point out that the mortality of diseases goes down with a healthy diet and advance medical care without vaccination, but death isn’t the only side effect of a disease. Months of suffering in a hospital bed, pneumonia, blindness, paralysis are all far more likely than death. More importantly, most is completely avoidable.
I feel I must mention herd immunity although herd mentality is avoided by libertarians. 85% of the population must be immunized to prevent epidemics. Viruses continually mutate by their unstable nature. Most mutations are useless; however, some become very contagious. The deadliest pandemic in history was the Spanish Flu of 1918, which lead to the deaths of over 20 million young adults, more than that died in World War 1. Herd immunity protect the immuno-compromised, as well as prevent resistant forms of viruses from mutating.
Vaccination is the only healthcare cost that isn’t a loss. Vaccination saves people money from far more costly hospital bills, loss of wages, and reliance on public assistance after disability. However, because of this, many pharmaceutical companies limit research and development of vaccines due to the loss of profits. Vaccines are developed in the purest form of kindness, not as way to profit, but to give back to humanity. Charity that the Libertarian Party supports over forced charitable donations, also known as taxes.
As a libertarian, I want personal choice and limited government interference, but as an educated mind, I know vaccines are not only safe but necessary to protect society. I never want to put the good of society over the rights of an individual, but unless an unvaccinated person can be held accountable for every person they infect, vaccination should be mandatory. Your right to choose what you put in your body does not trump my child’s right to not be exposed to a disease before they can be vaccinated.
The end goal of vaccination is for the populace to not need the vaccine. I was lucky enough to be born after smallpox had been eliminated. I have not been vaccinated for it, and I have hope that my children may not need the polio vaccination, MMR, or many others, although because of current vaccination rates, it does not appear likely. Measles was eliminated in the United States, but has resurfaced due to decreased vaccination enforcement.
Now we get into the truly difficult task for a free society with limited government interference to ensure a vaccinated population. I do not want the military kicking down people’s doors for not vaccinating (I barely even want a military), but I do not want walking biological hazards in downtown Manhattan. The real questions libertarians should be asking is not whether or not to vaccinate, but how do we get the population to voluntarily choose vaccination? How to pay for vaccinations? How do we continually encourage researchers to develop a product that makes very little profit, but eliminates suffering?
Philip White is a third year undergraduate, studying pharmacology and toxicology at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He intends to continue his education and pursue a career in pharmaceutical research.