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Gary Johnson Reverses on Right to Choose Vaccination

by Aya Katz

Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson recently reversed his stance on mandatory vaccination. Governor Johnson had previously held a staunchly pro-choice position, allowing each individual to choose for himself and each parent to choose on behalf of  their child to vaccinate or not. Recently Johnson reversed his position.

In my opinion, this is a local issue. If it ends up to be a federal issue, I would come down on the side of science, and I would probably require that vaccine.”

In phrasing it that way, Gary Johnson appears to have difficulty with two concepts: 1) What is science and 2) what are individual rights.

What is Science?

All true scientists are first of all skeptics. They have to be in order to follow the scientific method. Any scientific finding worth publishing is by its nature falsifiable. Anything not falsifiable is a matter of faith. As such, scientists are constantly trying to verify the nature of reality by attempting to disprove what they themselves and other scientists like them have postulated as a possible true statement about reality.

Science is about knowledge — acquiring it and trying to acquire more of it. It is not about telling other people what to do. The way vaccines work to help people acquire immunity is a scientific matter. What any  person should do, given this information, is not within the purview of science. Any real scientist can tell you that.

The History of Vaccination in America

The history of vaccination and inoculation in America predates the American revolution. One of the many diseases that plagued the colonists was smallpox. Inoculations for smallpox were devised early on. Aaron Burr, Sr., President of Princeton University (before it was called that), died of smallpox, as did his wife, Esther Edwards Burr. Their orphaned children, Aaron Burr, Jr. and Sally Burr,  went to live with their maternal grandparents, the great theologian Jonathan Edwards and his wife. At the time, an inoculation against smallpox already existed. Jonathan Edwards and his wife volunteered to be inoculated against small pox — and they died shortly thereafter of the inoculation. During the early history of inoculation in colonial America, the disease itself and the inoculation against the disease seemed about equally dangerous.

However, in time there was a breakthrough that led to safer vaccines, and smallpox was completely eradicated in the United States during the twentieth century. The vaccine was so effective that eventually it was discontinued altogether. Smallpox was taken off the list of available vaccines. This means that if anyone were to reintroduce smallpox as a pathogen — intentionally or by accident — into the United States, there would likely be an epidemic.

Why? Because we have lost our herd immunity. Nobody living today in the United States has ever had smallpox. Most young people have not even been inoculated against it using a vaccine. We are so good at eradicating disease by means of vaccination that we have created a vacuum of immunity against this disease.

What is Herd Immunity?

Gary Johnson has been won over to the position that people should be immunized as a whole due to the concept of herd immunity. The concept is a valid one. However, Johnson may not have considered all the implications.

I’ve come to find out that without mandatory vaccines, the vaccines that would in fact be issued would not be effective,” [Johnson] said. “So … it’s dependent that you have mandatory vaccines so that every child is immune. Otherwise, not all children will be immune even though they receive a vaccine.”

Herd immunity works like this: when a majority of the people in a population have acquired immunity to a pathogen, then the disease cannot spread even to those who have not acquired immunity, because they are statistically unlikely to come into contact with the live pathogen. Herd immunity creates a situation very similar to complete eradication of the disease. In this way, some people who have never been exposed to the disease, either because their immune system would have been too weak to withstand vaccination or through inadvertence, would not come into contact with the pathogen during their lifetime and would remain safe from contracting the disease.

Like anything in life, vaccines are not one hundred percent safe. Every year, a certain percentage of the people who are immunized suffer permanent injury and even sometimes death due to the immunization. It is a small percentage and those hurt are compensated from a special fund. But shouldn’t every person get to choose whether to brave the disease and acquire immunity the natural way or to undergo the immunization and risk the adverse consequences? Even if the chance of being injured is very small, shouldn’t each of us get to choose?

Prescription, Proscription and Conscription

When the herd immunity phenomenon is explained to us as the reason to support mandatory immunization, often a military analogy is given. We all face a common enemy — disease. We have to band together to fight the enemy, and for the sake of the common good, none of us should be allowed to shirk. Yes, there is a small risk to each of us that we will fall in battle. But the common good outweighs the risk to the individual, and so we should roll up our sleeves like good little conscripts and take one on the arm for Uncle Sam.

In South Carolina, just after President Madison had declared war against England, the men drafted to serve in malaria-infested swamps rebelled against Governor Joseph Alston. They were not afraid of dying in battle, but they had no immunity against malaria. The only population in South Carolina at the time immune to malaria was the West African slaves — and their immunity was genetically acquired through infant mortality. The white planters could also have eventually acquired genetic immunity, but at a great cost of adult lives and culling among infants. The War of 1812 was not won by conscripts. Victory was made possible by volunteers like the privateers of Louisiana.

We have done away with the draft. We have now found a way to defend our country without forcing people to risk their lives against their will. Isn’t it time we do the same for vaccination?

The Rights of the One versus The Rights of the Many

One of the risks of eradicating a disease completely is that it leaves a population wide open upon re-intoduction of the pathogen. A recent example happened in Haiti with cholera.

Cholera had been completely eradicated among the Haitians for about a century. As a result, no living person in Haiti had any immunity to cholera. Then in 2010 there was an earthquake. The UN sent in a peace-keeping force that included Nepalese who carried cholera. In short order, one in sixteen Haitians came down with the disease and eight thousand have died of it.

The advantage of allowing people to choose different courses of action within a given population is that some will take some risks, and others will take other risks, and then no matter what happens,though some people may be harmed, some people will survive. Some will acquire immunity through contracting a disease, such as the measles, while others will acquire immunity through a vaccine against the measles. Being for vaccine choice does not necessarily mean that everyone will choose not to be vaccinated. It might even mean that some will choose to be vaccinated against diseases that the State believes have already been eradicated — like smallpox.

The Right to Choose Vaccination

Hillary Clinton wants everyone to be vaccinated for what a central organization like the WHO decides requires vaccination. Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that vaccination causes autism (we do not yet know what causes autism). Jill Stein has quibbles over safety of certain vaccines. But Gary Johnson had the opportunity to be for choice. Forcing people to undergo mandatory vaccination is a violation of the Libertarian Party Platform. It is a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. But being pro-choice in the matter of vaccination is not anti-science. It even includes the choice to be vaccinated against diseases that right now the State will not allow. It’s not only not anti-science to say we should get to choose — it is not even anti-vaccination. Someone needs to tell Gary Johnson this. Choice is always a good thing.

About The Author

Aya Katz
Writer

Aya Katz is a libertarian writer and activist. She is the author of Vacuum County, The Few Who Count, Theodosia and the Pirates and Our Lady of Kaifeng. With a background in both law and linguistics, and a current place in primatological research, Katz is uniquely placed to report on issues of interest to libertarians from the perspective of both the law and science.

  • brainout

    Gotta say, I agree with Gary on this. It IS or should be a true Libertarian position: cuz its heart is, freedom for ‘me’ UNTIL it harms others.

    You can be a carrier of a disease yet not sick, i.e., those who went into Haiti. Earlier example, of the Conquistadores, or Zika folks entering the US now. So if not vaccinated, you can catch the disease OR transmit it to others who are not vaccinated. Do you want that on your conscience?

    • grizzliesrule888

      It should be their choice. If he supports assisted suicide, which I think he does, he should support this. Because the reason he would have for changing his position rejects the reason for assisted suicide. I don’t support assisted suicide or mandatory vaccination.

      • minniepott

        individual freedom as long as your choices don’t harm others. Not vaccinating puts others at risk. Those who are unable to vaccinate, the immune compromised, those that don’t build tilters properly, those that are too young to vaccinate. You’re comparing apples and oranges to make your argument.

      • BJK72

        @minniepott Are you up to date on every vaccine and vaccine booster? Likely not as most adults never continue the vaccine program. Kids are people too. They have the same rights as you and I over their property which clearly includes their own bodies. The unvaccinated population do not automatically carry disease. You and I are not inherently dangerous and neither are unvaccinated children. This is terrible public policy.

    • BJK72

      These examples prove the opposite of your point. It was in fact those WHO WERE IMMUNE to these microorganisms that were CARRIERS of disease. The immune infected the not immune. Those who are vaccinated are POTENTIAL threats to the unvaccinated. Perhaps one should study epidemiology and microbiology before exhibiting force in public policy.

    • BJK72

      Additionally, my conscience is at peace knowing I never forced foreign mayer into someone’s body against their will. How can you live with that on your conscience?

      • minniepott

        Your misinformation aside. Maybe you and I (and the rest of the world) have a different definition of “mandatory”. Manditory in this context means without being up to date on shot you are unable to work/attend public schools/daycares and certain health providing professions. Men in black will not show up to people’s doors with syringes pulling people’s sleeves up. Sometimes I forget the level of paranoia and fear the anti vax conspracies belief carries with them. Holy smokes! Epidemoligy, immunology, health organizations around the world including WHO and every doctor who practices evidence based medicine, along with scientists do not support your theories. Looking further into epidemiology and the science behind vaccines only goes against what you are saying. Instead you should be directing people to “doctors” and “scientists” that have online stores that sell their books, supplements, and alternative therapies. No one is going to force vaccination on you and yours unless you CHOOSE to be a healthcare provider, day care worker, attend public school, or volunteer to join the armed forces. Make choices that allow you to follow your beliefs, no matter how outlandish.

      • BJK72

        Mandatory- authoritatively ordered; obligatory; compulsory. Straight from the dictionary. Wtf should the federal government be forcing injection of substances into a person?

        You don’t know this about me but I am a doctor and there are literally thousands of doctors who do not vaccinate their children. The science of epidemiology clearly states that vaccinated individuals are more likely to transmit disease to unvaccinated as they can be asymptomatic carriers. The risk of infection is on the unvaccinated not the other way around. Furthermore, risk of death is nearly nonexistent from any infectious disease, despite millions of children who are not up to date on vaccines. Mandatory vaccination is both unprincipled and unjustified.

      • minniepott

        You’re a doctor that doesn’t vaccinate your children because you believe they are detrimental to health and not beneficial, but yet you force this medicine you call poison on to others!? I assume you don’t in fact vaccinate your patients, suggest it, or lead them to where they can be. If this is the case, you are not a practitioner in evidence based medicine. A naturopath perhaps? All of this is neither here nor there. The fact remains that individual freedom is not being taken away when it’s manditory to be up to date on vaccines (if medically able) to attend public schools/day cares and/or work in the medical fields. Science based medical fields, not the chriropractor’s office. Into conspiracy therories that involve a massive evil cover up? Don’t take part of the industry that you believe to be corrupt. Don’t send your child to school with those germ laden vaccinaters and put your child at risk. Seriously, if I believed the tale, it’d be quite easy to say no and choose different options that adhere to my beliefs and not have to deal with “forced” vaccination against my will. You’re being silly. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that they have your right to chose is not being taken away.

      • minniepott
  • meh130

    Does negligence violate the NAP? Murray Rothbard’s version of the NAP states the mere threat of violence is a violation of the NAP.

    Does a contagious person violate the NAP by coming into contact with another person? If I have to deviate from what I would do around a non-contagious person then the contagious person has violated my rights.

    Does a drunk driver violate the NAP by simply driving drunk? If I have to deviate from what I would do around a sober driver then the drunk driver has violated my rights.

    • BJK72

      I can hardly believe these words come from the mouth of a libertarian. What has become of our principles? The unvaccinated are NOT AUTOMATICALLY carriers of disease. You exhibit a wild misunderstanding of biology by believing they are. I suggest you reconsider your position. I’m reminded of the classic quote…”Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither.”

  • David Macko

    Michael Badnarik, our candidate for president in 2004, offered to meet anyone who wished to vaccinate him forcibly and determine whether the would-be vaccinator’s syringe could make a bigger hole than his .45. I regard that as the only Libertarian position.
    I intend to vote for and support Gary Johnson. President Trump will need a loyal opposition to overcome his constitutional and libertarian shortcomings after he defeats the communist bitch in the November landslide.
    Do you think that the positions on TPP and compulsory vaccination are meant to throw the election to Donald Trump so that the Libertarian Party would avoid the danger of being perceived as helping to elect the communist bitch?

  • AAtest

    I have to say that I agree with Gary, too. Those who allow the disease to infect them allow it an opportunity to mutate so that it can also infect me, regardless of my having chosen to vaccinate. In effect, they are making as much of a choice to put others’ life at risk by not being vaccinated as others are by requiring them to be vaccinated.

    Here’s another instance of friction between the theory and the application of libertarianism. Allowing choice for some sometimes requires removing choice from others. Choice as a default position is best, but purity of application is impossible.

    • AAtest

      Sorry to add-on. There is a big difference about methods of enforcement, also. Continual testing, education as to benefits and transparency regarding risks, and positive inducement rather than force would be better than tying people down and jabbing them with needles. Make the decision not to vaccinate onerous by applying escalating fines.

      And speaking of pure libertarianism, why did I have to register with the site in order to leave these comments? 🙂

  • OneAmongtheFence

    This was one of the big issues that I disagreed with Gary on and his previous stance on it concerned me. I’m actually pretty stoked about this.

    Good stuff, Gary.

    • minniepott

      I was excited to see he changed his stance too. It nagged at me.
      Now if he could also get up to date on the GMO scaremongering and how devastating manditory labling laws would be, I’d feel even more confident in voting for him than I already am.

  • Jeff S

    “Choice is always a good thing.”

    Not when your choice affects the safety of me or my child.

    Since doesn’t tell us whether there’s a choice or not. Science tells us that the choices we make affect others in this area.

    Gary Johnson is right.

  • jferrier

    I support him overall but believe he is wrong here. In Texas. Gov. Perry tried to make HPV vaccines for teenage girls mandatory and received such a backlash it was repealed. Not getting a vaccine does not put someone else in danger if the other person did get the vaccine, otherwise what’s the point of the vaccine? Vaccines can kill you, vaccines are believed to be linked to autism. Libertarianism is about the absence of force and free choice. This goes against both.

    • jmurphpitt

      thanks jferrier, thats the most common sense thing i have seen on here so far.

  • jmurphpitt

    Wow, what has happened to all the real libertarians?? This is terrible. So you all are ok with forcing medication on someone(mostly children) without being sure that it is safe to do. So much for pro choice Gary. Don’t forget that all the big pharma companies are exempt from any liabilities if their product injuries of kills someone and now you want to force it on young children!!! Wow…i’m sorry I voted for Gary Johnson last election, he sure isn’t getting my vote this time.

    • jferrier

      jmurphpitt,
      He’s still the best option and has my vote and hopefully still yours!

  • ioconnor

    I say it is a complicated subject. I’ve heard scientists in the field explain what is wrong with the current vaccinations. Mainstream press laughs this off without examining the details. If there were not something fishy going on I believe mainstream press would simply answer the issues. So taking a side, either side, is a bit premature. Johnson is an intelligent person. Surely he could say he is undecided. That he needs more information and all issues understood and hopefully resolved. Oh well. Everybody makes lots of mistakes. This issue hardly matters but if it helps get him elected then I’m all for his stance.

  • minniepott
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  • Blounttruth

    Johnson just lost my vote on this, aside from the anti second amendment stance, this is going too far. If vaccines are the wonder fix many on here seem to think they are, and they vaccinate their children with mercury, roundup, human and animal embryo, then that is their business, but do not put a gun to my head over something that if it works as advertised, then the vaccinated pose zero threat to those who choose to have something that the long term effects of are unknown.
    How can people be so adamant that vaccines are the fix all, and worry that the same vaccine might not protect them against what they are vaccinated for?
    I understand that the last mumps outbreak effected ONLY those who had taken the vaccine, as well as the flu that each year those who are vaccinated miss work, out for days at a time, and when asked how they got the flu they were told that they were not vaccinated against the strain the contracted, so then, why take a vaccine?
    Lemon water, Turmeric, honey, ginger, and black pepper boosts the immune system to a point that it has been near a decade since my last flu, and that is working around many vaccinated people that contract it each year after being vaccinated.
    The point being, the non aggression principle still stands, even with vaccines and their ineffectiveness, but to all their own, but I will not vote for anyone who demands the force of government be used to force medicate, as last I checked this is still America.
    While there are those that simply love vaccines, that is great, shoot em up, test em out and I say go for it, but do not demand that others fall to the will of big pharma for the sake of the big pharma dollar, and certainly try to find something other than vaccines to take a stand on, as if one is so trusting in vaccines, then how could the un-vaccinated hurt them in the least?

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