Gary Johnson Reverses on Right to Choose Vaccination
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.