Homely Metaphor for Your Responsibility to Get Vaccinated



The Centers for Disease Control is reporting 539 cases of measles in 17 different outbreaks around the country, the highest rate since 2000. The agency notes, "Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. It is so contagious that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease."

So far no one has died, but ten patients have required hospitalization. Yet another study shows that immunization for measles is not associated with a higher risk for autism. 

Over at the New York Times, physician Pauline Chen offers this relevant wisdom from her daughter:

One of my 11-year-old twin daughters recently came home from school distraught. When I asked why, she lifted her foot.

There was dog poop on her sneakers.

She watched as I flicked away the doggy detritus with a twig, then scrubbed the sole of her shoe with an old brush and hot water. "We don't like to pick up Buddy's poop, either," I could hear her telling her sister, "but we do it because it's gross to leave it on the sidewalk."

When I handed her the shoe, cleaned and as good as new, she beamed. "Thanks, Mom," she said, lacing up. But after a few test twirls in the yard, she stopped.

"Didn't that dog's owner know he would cause so much trouble for other people?" she asked, brow furrowing. "He might have even caused trouble for himself if he came back and stepped in it!"

At the tender age of 11, she had seen how one person's bad decision could negatively affect others.

The same lesson is playing out for patients and doctors across the country, albeit under far graver circumstances.

This year, there has been a major resurgence of measles, a dangerous disease that for decades had been virtually unknown in the United States. And it's become clear that measles has re-emerged as a public health issue in this country because large numbers of individuals remain unvaccinated.

For more background, read Reason's feature articles on the libertarian debate over mandatory vaccination.

NEXT: The Sad Story of Obamacare: Reason's In-Depth Treatment of the Health Care Fiasco That Won't Go Away

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  1. Compulsory vaccination?

    Heretic! Unclean!

    1. There is no libertarian debate about the subject. Just Ron Bailey and few squawking pseudo-libertarians bitching about it. You know how we can be sure Ron Bailey isn’t a libertarian? Because he denies self-ownership and therefore all that is derived from it. He supports compulsory vaccination administered by our government’s education monopoly. That’s not liberty as the highest ideal.

  2. If you’re not free to be stupid, you’re not free.

    1. ^^This, this is the concept that forces the progs into a “la la la la can’t hear you” tantrum of total stupidity. Also, I used to lean towards mandatory vaccinations, but then I realized that as long as I’m vaccinated but come in contact with someone who has the measles, I should still be fine, right? Isn’t that the entire point of a vaccination?

      1. Except for immunocompromised people who can’t be vaccinated. But even then, I think civil or criminal liability would mostly take care of any problems. You say you don’t believe in vaccinations and you went to volunteer at the AIDS clinic with a case of the measles? Enjoy your involuntary manslaughter charge.

        I could see a case for mandatory vaccinations during epidemics, though.

      2. That may be fine for you, unless you are (a) an infant too young or otherwise compromised and thus unvaccinated or (b) an immunocompromised individual.

      3. Sort of. If you are a healthy person with a good immune system that should work for you. But if the goal is to eliminate the disease form circulation, most people need to be immunized. Most vaccines have a pretty good failure rate and some people with bad immune systems can’t use them.

        I don’t favor forced vaccination. But I think that things like schools not allowing children who haven’t been vaccinated for certain diseases to attend are a good idea.

      4. Typical bullshit from the “I demand the freedom to be Typhoid Mary” crowd. Go look up Herd Immunity. Then realize your lack of vaccination AFFECTS OTHER PEOPLE! You are INITIATING VIOLENCE against others!

        1. Go look up the definition of “Initiating Violence”. I can guarantee you that it does not include “Refusing to participate in your herd “.

          In common law, we have a pretty good understanding of what constitutes willful or criminal negligence and what does not. Those principles can be easily applied here.

          A wolf going across your property to attack your neighbor’s chickens isn’t your fault- regardless of whether or not you could have erected 8 foot walls to prevent its travel. On the other hand, if you bait wolves to your property, or take a wolf and release it on your neighbor’s land, you accept responsibility.

          Likewise, declining to vaccinate against the spread of a naturally occurring disease doesn’t make you responsible for the spread of that disease. If, knowing that you had a disease, you willfully put yourself in a situation where people were likely to catch it from you, you are more culpable.

          Requiring people to jab needles into their body isn’t preventing any initiation of violence. It is initiation, plain and simple.

          And I say all this as someone who refuses to put his kids in camps or daycare where they allow “conscientious objectors” to decline vaccination. Holy shit, a free market solution!?

    2. Close, Warty. The true and only Iron Law is:

      You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.

      1. You aren’t free unless you’re free to infect some baby with a perfectly preventable disease!

        1. Why would you put your baby into a situation where he/she could come into contact with people carrying communicable diseases?

          1. You mean like the outside your home? Gasp!

      2. You are free to injure or kill yourself in any way you like. You are not free to take other people with you.

    3. I just want to be free to be stupid with a guarantee of freedom from consequences. Is that too much to ask?

  3. If I can kill a fetus cuz it’s my body, how is it no longer my body when you want to jab needles in me?!??!

    Also: deep dish circumcision tranny solar electric car.

    1. Because choice.

      Err, I mean…

  4. Hooray for open borders!

    1. Which ones are those?

      1. They must be open somewhere or these diseases wouldn’t be coming into the country.

        1. Have they ever been completely absent from the country?

          1. I believe so. That’s why they quit vaccinating for them. But now they’re baa-aack.

            1. MMR and DTaP were never taken off the list. It was never wiped out in the US, just uncommon. The fact that kids rarely got it because vaccination was so common is why parents got a false sense of security and stopped vaccinating their kids, it wasn’t because the CDC recommendations changed.

            2. As far as I know, vaccines for Measels and the other things you hear about today have never stopped. And babies get way more vaccinations than they used to.
              I thought the problem was more with the anti-vaccine morons.

  5. If potentially exposing people to your dangerous germs can’t be squeezed into the libertarian concept of “aggression,” that’s a defect of libertarianism itself, not a defect of compulsory vaccination laws.

    1. If potentially exposing people to your dangerous germs can’t be squeezed into the libertarian concept of “aggression,” that’s a defect of libertarianism itself,

      Fortunately, libertarianism also recognizes “self-defense”. Playing the role of self-defense is “vaccination”.

  6. Here, by the way, is a good example of a compelling interest/least restrictive means justifying limits on the religious freedom of anti-vaxers.

    1. What’s the government’s compelling interest in preventing someone from making their own self sick?

      Herd immunity, as I understand it, doesn’t protect people who are vaccinated. It protects people who have chosen not to protect themselves. So that doesn’t cut it, for me.

      1. It doesn’t protect everyone who has one–there is a non-zero failure rate. Also some people can’t take the vaccine because they’re allergic to the carrier liquid and it would kill them. I guess they’re just out of luck if a non-vaccinated passer-by sneezes on them in the street.
        Sorry, I don’t see this as a victimless crime.

        1. Even granting all that, it seems to me that you are willing to punish someone who hasn’t actually harmed anyone else or violated their rights.

          But just poses a risk of doing so.

          Surely we have learned our lesson about what a steep, slippery slope that is, and the very hot place that it leads to, yes?

  7. Won’t somebody please think of the dogs.

  8. Never hurts to throw in a financial incentive, as in: If you haven’t been vaccinated, treatment for the disease you caught because you’re a dumbass isn’t covered by insurance or welfare programs.

    1. That too.

    2. It’s not like my homeopath takes my insurance anyway!

  9. It is already de facto compulsory because vaccination is required for attendance at public schools and camps. Most private schools won’t accept unvaccinated students. It doesn’t need to be a federal or state law. It can be handled quite effectively at the local level by denying the unvaccinated access to group setting. True, the hardcore homeschoolers and religious types will be marginalized but, hey, the Amish, right?

    1. The people who don’t want to be vaccinated really don’t want to be vaccinated. It’s a pretty good bet that they’d ignore the law if it were illegal to not be vaccinated.

    2. CA has had a very broad religious exemption. Playa’s kid goes to school around the corner from me and I think a full third of his class filed a religious exemption. He has voiced his displeasure in past vaccine forums.

      Apparently the law at play changed as of January 1.

      In 2012 the personal belief exemption became more restrictive in that there is an additional requirement of a signature from a health care practitioner to obtain the exemption. Effective Jan. 1, 2014 parents, guardians and empancipated minors must now obtain this additional signature when filing with the governing authority the necessary documents that state which vaccinations have not been given on the basis that they are contrary to his or her beliefs. When the law was amended for this change, Governor Brown also issued an executive order directing the health department to include a separate religious exemption on the new exemption form.

      1. Jesus Christ. Is Manhattan Beach full of Jenny McCarthyism?

        1. Jesus Christ. Is Manhattan Beach full of Jenny McCarthyism?

          Wall-to-wall upper-middle and upper class white people with too much time on their hands and too little sense in their heads.

          Shorter jesse: yes.

      2. These are self correcting problems, though. An outbreak of measles in an affluent area will teach those dumbass parents real quick the value of vaccinations. Unfortunately, some little ones will need to suffer needlessly (FOR THE CHILDREN!!!!).

        Public shaming is, in this case, enough.

        1. Do you have any guns unvaccinated children in your house? If you do, I’ll never allow my children to play there.

      3. I hate religious exemption. Because my belief system of “I believe I should be left the fuck alone!” is not considered valid by the state who wants to push me around.

        1. The problem with a vaccination exemption is that it balances the interests wrong. This isn’t some company telling its own employees to buy their own birth control, it’s people endangering the community (including children). If California chose to abolish its religious exemption, that would be fine. There’s a compelling interest *and* a ban is the least restrictive alternative.

          So that’s not an argument against religious exemption but an argument against *this* exemption.

          1. I’m not anti-religious I just don’t like that if you belong to a certain belief system you don’t have to live by the same laws as the non-religious. If the law isn’t important enough to violate someone’s religion it shouldn’t be a law.

            1. Sure, usually these laws are the sort of thing which shouldn’t be applied to anyone.

              But to take the ACA example – the secular libertarians lost that one in 2012. Are the religious objectors supposed to roll over and refuse to invoke their specifically religious rights, on some “the worse, the better” grounds?

              1. I’m not blaming anyone who fights back, I’m criticizing a hypocritical system. “Laws are important and should be obeyed at all times! Unless you belong to a special group that is.”

          2. it’s people endangering the community (including children).

            As noted above, I get really itchy when someone supports a law that punishes people who merely pose a risk of harming others, but have not actually done so.

      4. What accounts for this religious exemption – (Jenny) McCarthyism or the Christian Scientists?

        1. I don’t remember. My parents had me research this when my brother was in school. There used to be a form that said “I certify vaccinating is against my personal beliefs” or something to that effect and you signed it.

          My little brother ended up with mumps in I think second grade and looked miserable.

          1. I was vaccinated for the mumps, and still wound up getting them at 17.
            That non-zero failure rate’s a bitch.
            Just for fun in a very small number of cases the vaccine prevents the primary symptoms like swelling in the neck area, but does nothing for the sometimes secondary problems with the reproductive organs.
            So, not only was I in the most miserable pain imaginable but wound up being accused of spreading some terrible venereal disease; a lovely bit of embarrassment on top of the pain until the geniuses figured it out.
            So, while intellectually I understand this does not really stand as a reason not to vaccinate, on an emotional level it’s tempting to say ‘fuck off vaxers!’

  10. Whatever I personally can imagine benefiting from is when government coercion is OK.

    1. We knew that already, Tony.

  11. Efforts should not focus on liberty-busting forced vaccination campaigns, but in making a better measles vaccine. The current vaccine/vaccine regimen is not that good.

  12. Let’s say Mr Bailey moves to Libertopia and occupies a beautiful 5 acres among countless other Libertarian properties. Like all other rural areas, there are various natural phenomenon that can negatively impact your land- and use other land-owners’ property as a vector for accessing it.

    Would a libertarian hold a land owner responsible if wolves crossed that land to his neighbor’s pasture where they killed livestock? Of course not. And libertarians would laugh you out of the room if you suggested that all land-owners were required to build 6 foot tall fences to prevent the spread of wolves.

    How about noxious weeds. Would Mr Bailey demand that land-owners spray round-up all over their property or build hermetically sealed domes over their property in order to prevent thistles from taking root on their land and possibly spreading to other land?

    Mr Bailey is trying to force people to mitigate natural risk on his behalf. It is anti-liberty. Natural contagions, pests and predators are just that- Natural. I have no more responsibility to protect you from a disease than I have a responsibility to protect him from an over-abundance of sun.

    There is certainly room to argue that under certain conditions, an individual becomes responsible for damages caused by natural phenomena. For example, if I cultivated thistles, baited wolves to my property or knew I was infected with a dangerous disease- in these cases, most would agree there is some burden on me to prevent spreads.

    1. Food for thought, O. Nicely argued.

    2. This seems to fall under the general libertarian fallacy of requiring human agency before public action is taken to prevent or respond to a harm. But why do we react to human agents causing harm in the first place? Because it is a type of public menace. But it’s just one type. Whether a person intentionally or unintentionally infects me with a disease, the outcome is the same. There is no rational reason only to concern ourselves with deliberate action when the whole point is to mitigate the harm. It’s more important to mitigate the harm than to punish the wrongdoing–the latter only serves the former.

      It’s clearly in the public interest to do things like mandate vaccinations (or collectively pay for prevention of wolf attacks or pollution or many other harms that come from nature). So free people should be able to decide to collectively do that, even to the point of coercing a minority against their will. Because that’s precisely what we do when we respond to human agency harms. The minority called “thieves” don’t want to be punished for thieving, surely, but you guys universally don’t consider it improper to violate their will.

      1. First, Tony, let me say that I appreciate you attempting a reasoned debate.

        But why do we react to human agents causing harm in the first place? Because it is a type of public menace.

        Unfortunately, this is where we disagree.

        We don’t react to infractions to the “public”, but instead in infractions to the victim. We have constituted this government to protect EACH PERSON’S right to liberty, not some public version of liberty. I know that we don’t agree on this basic principle, but that’s why you are who you are and why I am taking Mr Bailey to task for his logical departure from an otherwise libertarian ethos.

        And unfortunately that’s basically the end of our debate. Unless I concede your first premise that the government has a larger responsibility to “the public” than “each citizen” then your entire argument is a wash.

        1. I don’t think it’s a disagreement on principle, just semantics. A problem like thievery is going to affect people individually, but we establish publicly funded coercive institutions to deal with it as a public concern. The difference you’re asserting is not that one type of harm affects individuals and the other doesn’t, it’s that one type of harm is caused by human action and the other by nature. I don’t think there’s a justifiable reason to act collectively to mitigate one form over the other. If a rock falls on someone’s head because the cliff it rests on has eroded, or because someone pushed it over, the victim is in exactly the same place. The only reason agency comes into it at all is because we see it as useful to punish people for causing harm. Agency is only important as punishing people for infractions is considered preventative of future harm, but that doesn’t mean we’re only justified in preventing harm when people are causing it.

  13. but we establish publicly funded coercive institutions to deal with it as a public concern.

    No, we don’t. The public at large may establish these programs, but we do it to protect individuals.

    Essentially you are trying to say that the NAP shouldn’t be used as the foundation of a framework for laws because “WE” already do things differently. Fair enough. But it is also begging the question. Your reasoning only works if I assume that the NAP ought not be used as the basis of this exercise. And I have not conceded that.

    1. Who’s talking about something other than protecting individuals? I’m not sure what alternative there is. One can talk loosely about protecting the public, but one means, at all times, protecting individual members of it.

      I’m saying you can use the NAP as the framework for laws, but having a framework for laws in the first place requires what is consistently referred to as coercive force by libertarians. The disconnect I’m trying to get it as why it’s OK to coerce people not to harm one another, but it’s not OK to coerce people for the prevention of other forms of harm.

      The rational response to the question: “Would you rather have a stranger inject you with ebola, or would you rather contract it accidentally?” is “I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want ebola.” Criminal justice is simply a public preventative measure to react to one type of harm (human action), but there are many other types of harm, notably ones that come from nature.

  14. The disconnect I’m trying to get it as why it’s OK to coerce people not to harm one another, but it’s not OK to coerce people for the prevention of other forms of harm.

    Because one is the initiation of force and the other is not. Come on man. You have been around this site for years. You know the difference between initiation of force and response to initiation of force.

    1. How is a hurricane or a pathogen not initiating force?

  15. To be honest I don’t think I much care about NAP issues on this issues (ignoring the fact that there are plenty of conceptualizations of rights that show that not imunizing is an initiation of force/causing damage) – but the fact of the matter is that the whole pestilence issue is one of the basic issues of civilization, and something that successful societies deal with. Think Guns, Germs, and Steel. Typhoid Mary discussions or not, I think it’s a good idea that governments induce people to get their kids vaccinated by coercive-ish means (and it IS “ish”, since it’s required when sending your kids to school, while sending your kids to school is not required since you can homeschool)

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