With the rise of anti-vaxxers and the dangerous measles outbreak taking place in the Philippines (not to mention, around the world), the question of vaccinations has never been so relevant. The Department of Health has been mulling over the problem as well. Their consideration is if these vaccinations should be compulsory.
So let’s ask the question: Is it justified for the government to make vaccinations mandatory? It’s a matter of state paternalism and the extent of State power: does the state have enough ascendancy to force this decision on you?
Well, living in a democracy means there is a premium on choice. Society functions based on the ability of individuals to make their own choices. We see this in voting, relationships, beliefs, etc. Even when it comes to things that harm them, we allow people to make that decision for themselves. This is why society generally accepts alcohol, smoking, and gambling.
A closer parallel is medical situations which directly compromise your life but are still permissible because of personal beliefs. The State gives you the ability to refuse blood transfusions or organ transplants if it contradicts your religion, principles, or what-have-you. Even in situations where you could literally die we allow this because the state recognizes it does not have the jurisdiction to step in between you and your personal beliefs.
But your ability to practice your rights only extends to the point that it does not harm others’ rights. Your choice is important in so far as it does not hinder anyone else’s ability to choose. This is why we say no one has unlimited freedoms or liberties, even in a democracy. This is the space where we give the State authority to set boundaries.
What does this look like in practice? Criminalizing acts on the basis of victimization like rape and theft. Or disallowing actions which have external harms such as drunk driving or shouting “bomb” in an airport. We recognize that none of these choices are valid because they mitigate the rights of others.
How does this apply to vaccination? Let’s talk about herd immunization. You might think that vaccination is a choice which only affects yourself or your own children but that’s not true. When the refusal to vaccinate happens on a large scale it puts unwilling victims at risk. Herd immunization is a kind of immunity that comes from most people being vaccinated against the virus or bacteria. Because only a small number of people remain vulnerable to the disease the chances of it spreading are so low. This is especially important for people who cannot be vaccinated.
Unfortunately, those who are physically unable to get vaccinated are those most innocent and at worst risk. Babies who aren’t old enough or individuals with immunodeficiency disorders. The ‘personal choice’ to leave your children unvaccinated directly harms those who rely on herd immunization. It harms those whose vaccinations aren’t fully effective (because this does happen, however slight the chance). It harms those who don’t have access to vaccines in the first place.
People are dying from an illness supposedly cured decades ago. I think that’s more important than allowing any misguided beliefs that vaccines are dangerous.
What do you think?