New York City Makes Ineffective Flu Vaccine Mandatory; Your State Is Next

Should your child be kept out of preschool for not getting a shot that's only 23% effective?


I didn't realize--though should have!--that Walter White was on Team Science! |||

Are we still congratulating ourselves for being on Team Science instead of Team Stupid when it comes to this week's mostly non-existent debate over vaccines? (By "mostly non-existent" I mean that the three main political protagonists in this narrative—President Barack Obama, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul—essentially believe the same damned thing about vaccines, which is that they are highly advisable medical breakthroughs which nevertheless should not be mandated by the federal government.)

Thanks, Bloombie! |||

OK, great. Now let's talk about something that's actually worth arguing about: Should you be required to give your offspring a freaking flu shot before she's allowed in any city-licensed preschool or daycare facility? Because that's the five-week-old law of the land in New York City, where I and roughly 17 million other journalists live. You can apply for a medical or religious (though not philosophical) exemption, but otherwise: no flu shot, no preschool or daycare for you, Junior. Similar requirements are also enforced in Christie's New Jersey (he wasn't joking back in 2009 about "highest-in-the-nation vaccine mandates") and neighboring Connecticut, with other states ready to follow suit.

So what's the problem with mandatory flu shots? Start with this pragmatic consideration: The very inoculation being required in New York for the first time in 2015 is only 23 percent effective in preventing the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). "This year's rating is one of the worst since the CDC began tracking the results," Annie Hauser notes over at This poor five-year-old girl died last month from the very strain she was vaccinated against. Using government force to require an only somewhat effective injection is an excellent way to breed broader distrust of all mandated vaccines, even if there were zero potential side-effects from the shot.

And there are not zero potential side effects from the flu shot. I'm no Ron Bailey, and I'm sure he'll educate me to the contrary any minute, but I find it at least worth noting that many medical professionals are risking their own jobs by refusing to get an annual flu shot. Here's what one such nurse, Trish Powers, wrote in the Boston Globe last September:

The flu vaccine is [historically] only 59 percent effective and carries with it serious health risks, which are not disclosed to those receiving it. As of November 2013, the Federal Adverse Events Reporting System has received 93,000 reports of reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following flu vaccinations. These include 1,080 deaths, 8,888 hospitalizations and 1,811 related disabilities.

Nurses are more aware than the general public of this data, and many do not feel that the low effective rate of the vaccine warrants the health risk. 

Is Powers some kind of crazy anti-vaxxer cherry-picking scare-stats? I have no idea! I do know that she's certainly not alone among health care workers, at a time when flu-shot mandates are spreading faster than, well, Hepatitis B.

But are there potential benefits to mandatory flu vaccines? Of course!

A study conducted by researchers at Yale School of Public Health in Connecticut, where a flu-shot law took effect in 2010, found that immunization rates among day-care-age children in the state rose to 84.1% in the 2012-2013 school season, compared with 67.8% in the season before the law took effect.

And the rate of influenza-related hospitalizations fell 12%, to 51.5 cases per 100,000 children of day-care age, in 2012-2013 from five years earlier. That was the largest decline among a group of 11 states that compile similar data, the study found. And among all people in Connecticut hospitalized for flu, the percentage of patients who were children fell to 2.9% from 6.7%. The researchers attributed Connecticut's relatively better performance to the vaccination requirement in child-care settings.

You will find similar happy endings invoked in dissent-free pieces of journalistic advocacy such as this recent bit in Time magazine. But what these articles (and there are lots of them) rarely grapple with is the possibility that parents fed up with being told what more to inject into their children will simply opt out of the penalizing institutions altogether, creating dangerous clusters of under-vaccination. Yes, we should blame silly people for believing vaccines cause autism and then acting recklessly on those beliefs, but if your goal is to increase vaccination rates, continuously adding new mandates seems counter-productive.

And let's not forget that effectiveness is not the only way we judge policy in a free society, particularly when that policy imposes a medical procedure under significant penalty. America would produce physically healthier children if the government mandated drug-testing for all expectant mothers, yet we rightly recoil from such intrusiveness (well, most of the time). Even nationalizing the current state and local immunization mandates is still seen as an invasion too far, from the president on down. Locating the proper line between intervention and recommendation, between herd immunity and individual agency, between protecting children and Protecting the Children, is difficult for everybody, not just libertarians.

Scary! |||

We are better served having those debates over actually difficult questions—like whether Hep B* and flu vaccines should be mandatory, or what the terms of the various state/local opt-outs should be—rather than exiting the conversation after loudly appointing ourselves to Team Science. Rand Paul made a mistake when he mentioned "vaccines" and "profound mental disorders" in the same sentence (at least without the connective tissue of do not cause, so far as we know). But this passage of his in USA Today is not only persuasive (if defensive!), it's the gateway to a policy discussion that I think would prove more healthy in the long run than having a partisan laff at all the dum-dums:

I believe in vaccines. But I also believe in the doctors, parents and patients having a say in their healthcare. […]

It is possible to believe all of those things, whether or not the mainstream media chooses to believe it. Of course, their prejudice to supporting government power over freedom becomes quite evident at moments like this.

Don't miss our prescient cover forum of last year: "Should Vaccines Be Mandatory?"

* I elected for my newborn to have this shot last month, as I am both pro-vaccine and even less concerned with side effects than I am the almost zero chance of my infant being exposed to Hepatitis. 

NEXT: Republicans on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Over Obama's "Executive Amnesty"

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  1. The CDC doesn’t even recommend Hep B for “most travelers” going to Haiti, Matt. So like you, even though I’d get it for my kid, I hardly think it’s the end of the world if someone doesn’t get it. It’s not like measles.

    1. now, if NYC was my lifeboat…

    2. I was going to wear a condom, but then I thought, hey, when’s the next time I’m going to get to Haiti?

      1. Bad Idea Jeans.

        1. look- as long as you don’t have any open wounds on your arms- say, up to the elbow- you should be fine.

  2. First- part of me wants to say… you live in NYC you get the moronic, stupidity driven policies that come with is.

    Really, though, this is a nightmare. This is tyranny of the majority at its finest. Scary and sad. The whole world makes me sad. We are paddling against the current and we’re on the precipice of the falls…

    1. I want everyone to have their rights respected. Even people who don’t respect mine. So I can’t hold it against people who choose to live in NYC that their government sucks. And as more and more of the country gets more like this, choosing a different city becomes less of an option. Not everyone wants to live in Houston (which is far from perfect itself) or whatever an example of a less stupid city would be.

      1. I’ve lived in a lot of places and several cities over the years (including NYC) and let me assure you, every single place, whether urban, rural, or in between, has its own fucking stupid shit that the government there does. That’s why REGION WAR bullshit is so abjectly fucking stupid.

        1. Yes. I hate region war bullshit.

        2. That is some logic there. Not classical, but some.

        3. That’s why REGION WAR bullshit is so abjectly fucking stupid.

          But from an individual perspective, we all have a personal hierarchy of liberties that are most important to us.

          I would never live in NYC because the gun laws and the taxes are too onerous for me. It has other virtues, but those virtues are not as important to me personally.

          I think VA or NC going full bore Libertopia from a governmental perspective would be my ideal situation.

        4. Amen to that. I would say the same goes, in certain respects, for countries. I grew up in America, but lived for three years in Brazil and three in the NL. I like that I can buy a gun here, that I can buy a beer at 3 am on the beach from a ten year old in Brazil, and that I can buy some high grade drugs in the NL and largely not worry about police harassing my ass. Now if we could only combine all those things with very low taxation…it would be a very good start.

        5. While I tend to agree, there are places in the country where civil liberties are viewed as particularly. . .inconvenient. Fortunately, the expansion of the federal government is spreading this view across the country.

          1. Surely, more power in the hands of those immune to consequences couldn’t possibly end badly. I mean, right?

    2. I appreciate Matt showing some balls on the subject. He knows the truth can only get him grief.

  3. It is an interesting irony that vaccines’ own success is their greatest enemy since they have caused a generation of people to be unafraid of infectious diseases.

    1. Yeah, nobody panicked over Ebola.

      1. there wasn’t (isn’t?) a vaccine for ebola.

        1. According to Gary Johnson we don’t need a vaccine to fight ebola just pot.

          1. maybe- who knows… well, we know, but we don’t KNOW know, like with science and stuff.

        2. It’s still an infectious disease. That was the implication, people don’t fear disease anymore and that’s why they don’t vaccinate.

          1. i took it to mean only those diseases for which we have vaccines. Perhaps you inferred differently.

          2. I’d probably interpret it as people don’t remember what having kids dying of mumps or lockjaw was like and so they don’t think the vaccines are worth the trouble, but your interpretation is technically correct.

            Which I’m told is the best kind of correct.

      2. To be sure, even though people freaked out, at the bottom of it all, they knew the chance of infection was in the one-in-one-hundred million range.

        A really dangerous disease, like the 1918 influenza mutation, would remind people what the bad shit is like. I sure hope we get through the anti-vax fad before anything truly virulent returns. Better yet, we get enough control over human genetics to simply code our way out of trouble.

        1. yeah, but even that would be drastically reduced due to modern hygiene standards.

          1. Oh, sure, though I suppose there’s a perfect storm mutation that could do serious damage to people even today.

            1. then a vaccine wouldn’t help and we’re all screwed.

              1. Which is why we need a free market in healthcare to ensure that medical science and technology advances at the fastest clip possible. And a real manned space industry so we don’t simply die because a rock comes our way.

            2. There will be, at some point, a mutation that bypasses the vaccines and does some real damage. It will happen, it’s just a matter of when. But…that’s life. Literally. That’s the constant war we wage against bacteria and viruses.

              1. And, at some point, we’ll probably see warfare through GMO germs.

  4. Ah yes the biggest issue with mandatory vaccines (besides self-ownership) is that you need a TOP MAN to declare that a vaccine Works, has no serious side effects and that the disease is something worth getting being inoculated against. Not to mention the fake vaccination programs of the CIA…

    1. it’s all a value judgement. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure value judgements make good basis for laws.

    2. Speaking of needing a TOP MAN, it’s frustrating as hell for travelers that there’s no cholera vaccine available in the US, even though there’s one in Europe and India and WHO considers it an “essential medicine.” Thanks FDA!

      1. Speaking as someone who’s suffered cholera- I would give my kids a vaccine in a heartbeat. It was horrible. the only thing worse was the Belizean hospital.

        1. It’s too bad you’re not a cystic fibrosis carrier, it might have gone much better for you. Or not, they haven’t really confirmed that hypothesis.

  5. Yeah, I don’t think it’s medically possible for children not to get sick from each other, no matter the precautions.

    Full disclosure: I’ve never had a flu shot in my life.

    1. my wife and kids get them. i don’t. i’m going to get sick anyway or I’m not.

      1. My wife and kid get them as well, while I don’t. Last time I had the flu was about ten years ago, and before that my freshman year of high school. I’m not worried.

        1. My youngest son was premature, 2lb 7oz. He’s five now, healthy as a horse, but you can bet your sweet bippy he got flu and RSV shots until he was two. None of the rest of us get them. I’ve never had one in my life.

      2. I don’t either. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad case of flu. Every 5 years or so I get what I suspect might be a mild case and I feel crappy for a couple days and cough for a week and that’s it. Seems like a good system.

    2. I’ve gotten them a couple of times. Aside from the ability to levitate objects telekinetically, I’ve suffered no effects, ill or otherwise.

      1. Being turned into Michael Keaton is a horrible side-effect.

      2. Double full disclosure: I have an accessory spleen where one of my kidneys should be, and it makes me invulnerable to viral and bacterial infections as well as most toxins.

        1. *scraps plan to poison Fist*

          How do you feel about getting a full Rasputin?

  6. This is an example of what has been going gradually wrong in America for a lot of years now. Whenever you open the Utilitarian Box you can’t be sure of what else is going to fly out before you can jam it shut again. Most of the horrible things that our government has become were sold as small, limited, “common-sense” or “fair” proposal that transformed into gargantuan, liberty killing policies. One of the reasons that I have been on the fence about the vaccine issue is precisely because of that tendency.

    1. As Mr Soul pointed out on the libertarian parenting thread, future corruption is completely foreseeable. I mean, hey, let’s put a Top Man in charge of a list. Companies who the Top Man puts on this list enjoy a population forced to buy their product, while simultaneously being protected from culpability for damages.

      Top Man gonna get some fat envelopes, and we’ll be vaccinated for plantar warts. For the children!

      1. Hopefully, as with most issues, it will be sorted out in the private sector. If Disney world or private schools estimate the risk of non-vaccination for whatever diseases is substantial enough, they will require it for entry; other private enterprises may do the same, adding incentives for people to get the vaccines without coercion.

        Frankly, two analogies pull me in opposite directions here. On one hand, people’s choices harm others all the time; going outside and into crowded public spaces while sick can get others sick; even what you buy or sell in theory influences prices which effects other people’s well being, so by that analogy you are correct, if coercion can be used for vaccines with that justification, it can be used for anything.

        On the other hand, it already is used in one non-controversial way: drunk driving. A person who drives drunk mainly puts himself at risk, does not inherently injure others by driving drunk, but increases the likelihood of accidentally doing so. So in that case, isn’t the illegality of drunk driving an example of the state forbidding people from making poor choices because they might inadvertently negatively impact others?

        So by the current legal framework, it is not a question of whether or not but how much (presumably, how much risk is imposed on others by the choice in question).

        1. See, here’s a thing. I don’t agree that drunk driving ought to be prosecuted. It’s punishment for a potentiality, not an actuality.

          I’m not down with pre-crime laws. We have “aggravated” as an addendum for a reason. If a drunk hits someone? Lock ’em up and throw away the key. Triple the penalty.

          To paraphrase something Suthen(something, don’t know everyone’s handle yet) said the other day… Society is not an entity, it has no rights. Individuals have rights and there’s no cause of action against the drunk until he has infringed against an individual.

  7. President Barack Obama, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul?essentially believe the same damned thing about vaccines


    If I’m in agreement with Christie *and* Obama, I need to go back and carefully re-examine that stance.

    1. Let’s just assume that falls under the “broken clock is right twice a day” umbrella.

  8. I was thinking – Suppose a illegal alien from South America (who was caught at the border last year but disappeared) snuck their kid into a preschool. He caught flu in the states and spread it among his classmates. Some GOP governor says it might be time to make vaccination mandatory among kids. If a child didn’t get vaccinated, then no preschool for him or her. What will be the media’s response then?

    Anyways, I oppose this. Flus aren’t fatal (for the most part).
    And they aren’t some hidden surprises, parents and teachers will know if a kid has flu. Sniffling, coughing, whining, etc. You can separate the kid from the rest of the class in some situations.

  9. I’ve been working on getting my wife to try homeschooling when my girl gets to be schooling age. This might grease the rails a bit.

    1. I don’t have kids, but if I ever do there is no way I’m putting them through public school.

  10. Febrile seizures FTW…..zures.html

    Note that they’re more likely if the flu vaccine is given in conjunction with certain other vaccines. But there’s absolutely no reason to worry about giving your kid too many vaccines at the same time. Really.

    1. Nope, because if you read the whole CDC report, it’s not all ebola and anal leakage. And most vaccines prevent febrile seizures.

  11. “Should your child be kept out of preschool for not getting a shot that’s only 23% effective?”

    You and your child should be publicly shot if you refuse to Submit Submit Submit!

  12. No, what should happen is that each and everyone us of should SHAME thy neighbor if they don’t comply. And if that doesn’t work, just call the swat team and say that there’s drugs in their house. If that doesn’t work, start throwing rocks at their house at night and if that doesn’t work? BURN THE WITCHES!

    I heard it here at Reason, that this is the way.

  13. Why doesn’t NYC go to the next logical step already? Make it mandatory for everyone to get the shot. Set up traffic stops and if anyone can’t show their shot papers, drag them out of the car and give them the shot right there. If they resist? Shoot them. It’s for the greater good and it will boost police moral.

  14. It should be up to the pre-school to decide if they want to mandate vaccination.
    There’s gotta be a trade-off between losing the anti-vax parents and gaining the ultra-paranoid about sickness parents.

    1. Hazel. If I had kid’s I would have them vaccinated. I would also not want them to associate with kid’s who are not vaccinated.

      I would pony up, and send my children to a private school where all the other kids are vaccinated.

      1. If there were school choice in this country, this would all be much simpler. People could pick a school that has whatever policy meets their preferences. Then you wouldn’t have to pay for the public school while also paying for private to keep away from unvaccinated kids.

  15. This is not “Team Science” forcing people to get ineffective flu vaccines, it’s “Team Atheist”. No offence to all you Libertarian Atheist’s out there. You are the ones I respect.

  16. In general, how dangerous must an organism be before we allow the government to violate liberties to stop it? I could see the point of arresting a guy for releasing wolves into a playground full of children, but not for releasing butterflies in said park.

    1. My child has a severe butterfly allergy. Even casual contact with someone who has seen a picture of a butterfly could cause a reaction.

  17. Because that’s the five-week-old law of the land in New York City, where I and roughly 17 million other journalists live.

    Um … NYC’s population is a bit over 8 million. I know that some writers think that everyone is a journalist, but it’s a bit much to claim that journalists comprise around 200% of the city’s population.

  18. ” Using government force to require an only somewhat effective injection is an excellent way to breed broader distrust of all mandated vaccines,”

    Here is the thing about that 23%, why can’t pharmaceuticals ( once they establish what strain of the flu is going around ) expedite production of the correct strain ? It obviously takes a year to mass produce flu shots but this season, almost as soon as the flu vaccines were distributed around the country, it was confirmed to be the wrong strain.
    Wouldn’t it be advantageous for hospitals to have the correct flu vaccine for their high risk patients? Even if the rest of us are fucked this flu season, we don’t have to look like idiotic morons wringing our hands and turning a deaf ear to the ever growing list of side effects from pharmaceutical companies with huge advertising budgets.

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  20. The “National Vaccine Information Center” is maybe the most prominent anti-vaccine outfit in the US. It’s not a scientific source (but the opposite) and I have no idea where it gets its numbers from. Yes, you should have talked to Mr. Bailey before writing this insane nonsense.

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