One of the largest 20th century advancements in science and medicine has undoubtedly been the humble vaccine, from eradicating the spread of once common serious diseases to hacking our immune systems by adding disease fighting anti-bodies. Once a child is born they are injected with a barrage of vaccinations and continue this myriad of chemical cocktail injections until about the age of 18. Vaccinations have always been a controversial topic, the war between the pro-vaccine camp and the anti-vaccine movement has raged on for quite some time now often crossing the line between inquiry and absurdity on both sides. The anti-vaccine crowd claims vaccines cause autism and that vaccine pushers over hype the efficacy of vaccines. The pro-vaccine crowd is often dismissive of anyone whom does not vaccinate in fear of alleged side effects which they believe are based on bad science or outright quackery, they would have it that the more people whom are vaccinated the more effective herd immunity becomes leading to an overall healthier society. The debate will likely continue as new science brings us closer insight to the effects of vaccines on an individual and macro level, however the choice of whether or not to vaccinate yourself or your children has always been left up to personal choice, but there is a growing contempt for personal decision making amongst many who believe that to not vaccinate is not only irresponsible, it is a danger to society.
While on the campaign trail, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for President, conceded on Vermont Public Radio that if vaccination were a Federal issue he would, “come down on the side of science and I would probably require that vaccine.” This caused an uproar among the libertarian community for both small “l” (philosophical) and big “L” (politically involved) libertarians. All the fuss eventually led to Nicholas Sarwark, the Chair of the Libertarian Party, to issue a live statement later that night on Facebook to clarify that he had spoken to Johnson and that he had reversed his position on compulsory vaccination as he admittedly did not have enough knowledge about vaccination or how it worked. The next day Johnson would publicly address the New Hampshire Libertarian Party retracting his position on mandatory vaccinations saying, “Look, in the case of a zombie apocalypse taking over the United States, and that there’s a vaccine for that, as president of the United States you may find me mandating that vaccine,” he joked. “I just want to do this in all transparency.” While it is certainly amicable to find a politician whose own ego allows them to admit when they are wrong, the intellectual and philosophical firestorm had already been ignited under the libertarian community and a line had been drawn in the ash.
The debate about whether or not libertarians should support mandatory vaccinations is a philosophical consistency issue and I will show you how supporting compulsory vaccinations is an extremely authoritarian position. The most basic tenet of libertarianism is that as long as someone is living their life in a way that does not initiate violence or fraud upon others or their property, they should not be interfered with by government. The pro-compulsory vaccination libertarians would argue that by not being vaccinated and contracting and then spreading a disease you are infringing the rights of others who choose not to be infected. So what does libertarianism suppose of compulsory vaccinations? If the purpose of government is to protect individuals violating each others rights, does that create a libertarian argument for forced government inoculations? I don’t believe it does, and furthermore to take up such a position would lead one to the deepest trenches of philosophical Machiavellianism.
A virus is an infective agent that multiplies inside the living cells of a host, while bacteria are living organisms that can cause infection within the body, when a virus or bacteria enters the body our immune systems immediately starts fighting back with its own line of defense systems including T-cells, natural killer cells and antibodies. The human body has accumulated billions of years of natural innovation to create a complex system designed to keep our bodies safe from viral and bacterial infection, at least as best as it can. The vaccine works by introducing a weakened or inert virus or bacterial sample into the body, our bodies defense system begin attacking the infectious material and start working on creating anti-bodies that are effective at fighting that specific infection, the anti-bodies act as watchdogs that are more effective at preventing future invasions. The virus or bacteria is truly an invader, not a welcomed friend, and as such the immune system is under attack by this foreign predator. When a person gets sick and then transmits that disease, that in itself is not an act of violent aggression, less a person escaping a hornets nest bring the swarm to close enough to someone who gets stung and gets sued for damages. Certainly in situations where the communication of the virus is intentional would be applicable to the law, for instance if a person who knowingly has AID’s has sex with other people to intentionally infect them, someone coughing on others in public with the goal of causing a mass epidemic or sending anthrax in the mail would all be considered examples of intent. The law should never allow others to seek damages against one another for allegedly infecting them with a disease and getting them sick, to do so would punish the victim as well as criminalize a natural human condition often beyond ones best control, not to mention be difficult and costly to prove. Many libertarians would cry foul and claim negligence on behalf of the person who spread the infection for not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread.
What if there is a way to prevent this whole scenario from occurring, would that justify violating the non-aggression principle if proper safety precautions were not taken? If I drive my car with no brakes on the highway and get in an accident that kills innocent people am I going to be charged with murder? This view of thinking is a strawman argument when it comes to vaccines preventing viral or bacterial infections, because the truth is, vaccines only have an 80-99% efficacy rate. Strains of viruses are constantly mutating and the vaccine does not always work as each individual’s immune system is different. An individual can be administered a vaccination and not receive any of the benefits from the injection. Not to mention that many people, especially those with compromised immune systems, have health conditions and are advised against receiving vaccines as it could potentially result in injury or death. If the government were to indiscriminately vaccinate everyone in the United States today many people would not receive immunity and some would be killed. The typical counter to this is the call for herd immunity, for vaccines to work most effectively they would need to be administered to as many people as possible for the people that are most vulnerable to be the safest.
This I concur with, but it is not the job of government and should certainly not be forced on the population. To say that someone ought to be shot up with a vaccine by government because they have the possibility of getting sick, and to say if you get sick you have the chance of getting someone else sick, and if we are going to be criminalizing the negligent spread of disease, then therefore you are enforcing pre-crime prevention. Libertarians are often heard saying “no victim, no crime.” But if no crime has been committed and a person is perfectly healthy, the government injecting them with vaccines would imply the creation of a pre-crime prevention unit of the State. If I don’t have an infection how can I spread it? That would be like banning someone from owning a firearm because they are on a no-fly list, which is a completely arbitrary list with no publicly defined parameters for judgement nor a judicial appeals system. But the intellectual inconsistency doesn’t stop there, if libertarians are going to support mass compulsory vaccination campaigns, that means tax payers will be footing the bill, and who will be creating these vaccines? Certainly not the government, but the pharmaceutical industry.
Government is the middle man when it comes to innovation and technology, and even during the direst zombie apocalypse it wouldn’t be the government creating the cure, it would be the free market. So when you have government agents with marching orders to vaccinate 320 million Americans, they will be equipped with vaccines from corporations like Merck and Pfizer, this will invariably perpetuate the crony capitalism that we are used to today. When the government gets to choose what kinds of latest and greatest vaccinations one must take, for the greater good of the greater number, these companies will be influencing the decisions. Look no further than Ebola, H1N1 and the Zika Virus to see the latest scary virus or epidemic that will surely make the Bubonic Plague look like a staph infection. But what if we use our imagination and suppose that there is a zombie apocalypse and the government has the cure, and for the love of humanity we must begin vaccinating every red blooded American or else the planet will turn into a preppers wet dream, or every other AMC premiere for the last ten years. At that point, your ideas are so good it will not require force. If we are living in an apocalyptic zombie dystopia, I will gladly inject any magic serum into my bloodstream with the remote possibility of making me zombie proof! Then I will drive out into the city in my zombie attack vehicle to blast some undead, gather supplies at Mercy Hospital, and make it back to the safe house before sun down. But I would disagree with Gary Johnson, hopefully safe on a mountain somewhere, that we would need government to tell us that vaccines are the best decision!
In a free-market, ideas and scientific advances compound and expand so rapidly that new technologies will always be feared and accepted, often disproportionately at times. If one day there is a nano-bot swarm that can effectively eradicate all diseases, does the government have a duty to inject all of its citizens with them? Only if you believe that the ends justify the means, and that kind of Machiavellianism is diametrically opposed to principled libertarianism. We must all evolve together, a few hundred years ago proper hygiene was not well understood nor practiced, today you don’t need anyone holding a gun to your head to force you to take a shower every morning. When we see such giant leaps away from core principles it is our jobs as libertarians to use candor and thorough discourse to evaluate an issues place in our philosophy.
A little anecdotal excerpt about vaccinations, when I was younger I received the chicken pox vaccine. Sometime in Middle School I contracted the virus and unknowingly spread it to my classmates, when I went to the doctor they said I had one of the worst cases of the chicken pox they had ever seen. The vaccine had failed me, but I recovered, so did the other kids that I had inadvertently infected. No one went to jail, no criminal charges were filed, and herd immunity might have done its thing, not sure. The point is, from that day I realized that vaccines were not the final answer, and I received a few more shots over the years, but I had opted out of receiving vaccines after that. I instead opted to build my immune system with food, supplements and exercise. I haven’t gotten the flu in years and I typically recover from the cold faster than everyone else, if this is the route I wish to take it is my right. To force your ideas on others, for whatever the reason, is intellectual authoritarianism. I reserve the right to live my life the way I choose, anything else is an explicit violation of my right as a human being, bar none.
We must remember that as a human species we are faced with many oppressors, nature is one of them. We must do our best to fight against these oppressors with respect to our kin. Just as we fight against the spread of government we must also fight against disease, let us not make the same mistakes we have made in the past when it comes to this fight. Force is not a meaningful response, open discourse and compassion are the only answers to helping 7 billion people evolve. I don’t believe vaccines are the answer to eradicating disease for humanity, but they are a piece of the puzzle; the eagerness to follow through with a potential solution can be so great at times that it takes us away from our philosophical roots and consistency, let’s not allow that to happen.