A Jab In Time

Don't force vaccines on people - but protect everyone else.

Disneyland is playing host to something that hasn't happened there since its early years: a full-blown measles epidemic.  Of course, as a vacation destination for the entire world, it's hard to imagine a place where diseases can be spread more widely and more effectively to anyone who's vulnerable.

Nobody likes to see sick kids, and the obvious cause of the measles problem is the simple one: parents who chose not to have their kids vaccinated.  If you have been vaccinated for measles, you very likely won't get it - that's the whole point of a vaccination.  If you don't get vaccinated, you may or may not get it because you may not happen to ever be exposed, but you're much more likely to.

Hence the calls for even harsher measures against parents who make this illogical, irresponsible, anti-scientific choice.

These calls are perfectly understandable - but they are both morally wrong and profoundly dangerous.

The Right to Be Wrong

As Americans, we treasure the whole panoply of rights laid down by our forefathers - to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and so on.  As conservatives, we view these rights as absolutes, or nearly so.

Are we nauseated by 9-11 Truthers, by Holocaust deniers, by the KKK or neo-Nazis?  Of course we are - but they have the right to spew their lies, so long as they do it peacefully and in the proper way.  The way to deal with lies is not by making them illegal, it's by combating them with truth in the public square.  That's why there are special "anti-semitism" sections in libraries.  No matter what a book says, wey'd rather organize it and care for it than burn it.

The same goes, or ought to go, for behaviors that do not harm anyone else.  If a parent chooses not to have their kids get the measles vaccine, it might very well harm that child - but it can't, by definition, cause any harm to anyone else who has been vaccinated.  If some other child isn't vaccinated - well, again, that is the risk that the parents freely chose.  What right have we to forbid this choice, as irrational as it might seem?

It is a fact of science that vaccines occasionally kill people.  It is also a fact of history that vastly more people died from diseases, back when they were virulent, than ever died from any vaccine.  Opposing vaccines is a sign of mathematical illiteracy and statistical ignorance.

So is smoking - yet, as filthy as that habit is, we staunchly defend the right of free adults to choose to abuse themselves in that way.  Not everybody who smokes dies of lung cancer, and those who do don't collect pensions as long as they would if they didn't smoke.

Freedom stops where it harms others.  There is no right to drive drunk because that often kills innocent bystanders.  But you have every right to get stinking drunk in a bar or your own home, even if you die from alcohol poisoning.  The right to be stupid or wrong is the very definition of freedom.

Leave the Stupid Alone

There are lots of people in America, and in the world, that say and do things we don't like.  They may be offensive or rude.  Maybe they stink.  Maybe they cuss.  Maybe they're drunk half the time.  Maybe they abuse drugs.

Should we ban all of that?  Of course we could - but then we wouldn't live in a free country, we'd be living in a police state.  Is that what we want?

Most importantly of all, if we go down that road, it's not likely that your specific beliefs will be the ones on top.  Much more probably, it will be someone else telling you what you must do or cannot do.

That's why freedoms are fundamental, non-negotiable, and not subject to decisions of what's true, false, or rational.  There will always be someone in power who thinks that you're talking rot and who wants to shut you up just to demonstrate power over you.

The only way we can preserve any freedoms at all is to preserve everybody's freedom to the widest possible degree - even the loonies.

But Leave Them Out Where Needed

So - does that mean you have to just sit there when some racist nut is ranting about the Jews?  No!  You can walk away.  If they're in your home or place of business you can ask them to leave.  If they're on TV you can change the channel.  You can't shut them up, but you don't have to listen to them.

By the same token, parents have an absolute right to make medical decisions for their children, including vaccinations.  That does not mean they have an absolute right to make that choice and also be treated equally at school.

There is no right to attend school.  There is a right to be treated according to the same rules as everyone else, but there are many children who are not allowed in public school for many different reasons.  Maybe they committed violence against other kids or the staff.  Maybe they are suffering from a contagious disease and need to stay home until they won't harm anyone else.  This doesn't mean that they are less than human, it just means that, for the protection of everyone else, they can't be in school.

The same is true of unvaccinated children.  Their parents have the right to teach them at home, or to put them in a private school which agrees with their decision.

If local health authorities are worried about epidemics, then for everyone's protection they can simply prohibit unvaccinated children from attending public school.  Parents can weigh this in their decisions on vaccination or on where to live, just as they weigh many other pros and cons of every other choice in life.

That way, everybody has the maximum freedom.  What we seem to have forgotten is, just because you have freedom to make a choice, does not mean that your choice will be without cost.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

You make some good points. HOWEVER, I take issue with the assertion that non-vaccinated kids don't hurt anyone but themselves. In fact, they do. If you have a sec, read this page on "herd immunity":


Every last human being CAN'T get vaccinated. Kids with cancer, kids with egg allergies, people with immune disorders - they're part of a fairly decent sized group that are physically unable to get vaccinations. When kids that can get vaccinated choose not to, they are shrinking herd immunity which all modern societies depend on.

Also, there are quite a few school districts - even whole states like TX - that already keep non-vaccinated kids from attending public school. It might be Ohio. But a lot of them are moving in that direction.

The problem with modern politics is that a distrust in government has made people smart and stupid at the same time. While they're smart to realize that they need to depend more on themselves, the anti-science anti-GMO anti-meds crowds get a lot more attention than they otherwise would as a byproduct of the same paranoia.

February 4, 2015 10:23 AM

It seems to me that the "herd immunity" issue is a bit like secondhand smoke.

Can secondhand smoke harm nonsmokers? Obviously it can, though the degree is debatable.

Does not getting vaccinated hurt herd immunity? Obviously, though again, it would be hard to calculate the percentage increase in risk for any one example.

So the question comes down to - what **level** of harm is required before restricting somebody's freedom?

We could use the same logic to ban all drinking on the grounds that the taxpayer has to pay for livery treatments for all the uninsured drunken bums. But if we go down that road there will be no freedom left.

February 4, 2015 10:53 AM

I wasn't suggesting we ban it. I was only asserting that it DOES hurt other people. Parents should realize that as part of the equation, though many of them don't (or don't care because of their own ego and stupidity).

February 4, 2015 12:00 PM

As lfon says, the primary premise for this article is false. Unvaccinated people can hurt other people. EVEN vaccinated people, since vaccines are not 100% effective (depending on the vaccine, a few percent never become immune).

February 4, 2015 5:27 PM

The problem with the argument is that while it addresses the matter of transmission in schools to a reasonable degree that isn't where this illness got its start. It started in public, in a place that could not hope to restrict access based on vaccination status.

I can not choose to walk away from a person that isn't vaccinated because I can't know who they are. And marking them with a star of david is certainly an equally reprehensible idea.

Individual liberty is best protected by ensuring the public welfare. The child with cancer that can't get vaccinated is having his liberty restrained because another person's fear of the possibility of harm to their child.

Who's liberty is more important?

February 4, 2015 8:30 PM

@jonyfries - You asked a very good question, "Who's liberty is more important?" We have a process for answering such questions which is called "politics." Messy, but the best one known.

February 4, 2015 8:35 PM

Let's clarify, because I haven't heard anyone explain this or perhaps I missed it:

1. We get vaccinated so we may avoid getting these diseases.
2. We don't get vaccinated and we may catch these diseases.

But if we get vaccinated and we come in contact with someone who has the disease, we can still get the disease? Then why get vaccinated?

Do we know whether people who caught measles had been vaccinated, or are they ones who were vaccinated but still caught the disease? Maybe patient #1 was vaccinated and was completely unaware of being afflicted with measles, and spread the disease unknowingly, perhaps assuming that the vaccine would prevent the disease.

And if someone has the disease, do we immediately quarantine them and keep them out public places? And then mark them with the star of David...

February 11, 2015 4:38 PM

BTW, I am vaccinated and so are my children. I don't believe in the flu shot however. :-)

February 11, 2015 4:39 PM

@Alin_S That isn't quite accurate. If you don't have the vaccine and are exposed to the measles you will get it (90% chance from a story I heard on NPR for someone without the vaccine to get it if they are in the same room as a person with the measles.)

If you have gotten the vaccine there is still a chance that you might get it as the vaccine is not 100% effective.

From the reports that I remember hearing (so this is from memory, please double check my numbers) approximately 90% of the people that got the measles did not have the vaccine. Also approximately 90% of people in the United States get the vaccine. So assuming a random sample of people were exposed that means for every 100 people that are exposed 90 people got the vaccine and 10 people didn't. Of the people that got the vaccine 1 person gets it. Of the people that didn't get the vaccine 9 people get it.

So if everyone got the vaccine if there was a case it would likely be just the one individual that got sick. They would be unlikely to infect any additional people. Unfortunately not everyone can get the vaccine due to medical reasons (like cancer) or age (you have to be 1 before you can get the vaccine). But the more people in society that have the vaccine the less likely people are to be able to infect any additional people when the rare case does occur making 'outbreaks' a single person or at least just a handful.

February 12, 2015 11:28 AM

Its also important to note that someone with the measles is contagious for days prior to showing any symptoms. So keeping your self or your children away from people with signs of illness will not be particularly effective.

February 12, 2015 11:33 AM

@Alin_S You asked about quarantine. That is what they did for measles, mumps, and chicken pox back in the day. That is what they lack the political will to do for AIDS. That is what various governors tried to do during Ebola.

Quarantine is known to work, but you have to make it work. It tends to restrict the liberties of the person quarantined.

February 12, 2015 12:03 PM
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