To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

That is the question! When analyzing this issue there are three points to consider: the person’s right to choose what is good or not good for him or her; a parent’s right to choose what is best for their child; and the rights of the community to which a person making the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate, belongs to.  There are no straightforward answers, but there are a few parameters worth considering when assessing this situation.

In the first point, the right of a person to choose what is best for him or her, the answer is the simplest.  The person should be able to choose to do with his or her body whatever it is that they consider is best for themselves, including having a vaccine for a disease, or not.  It is the same as if one chooses to exercise or not, eat healthily or not, inject heroin or not; it surely must be up to each individual.  The only caveat to this conclusion is when taking into account the type of disease the person is considering being vaccinated for.  Specifically, the decision cannot be left up to the person if the disease is too contagious.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on this situation.  People should adhere to the orders of social distancing and isolation because if they don’t, the contagious pathogen could infect and seriously harm other individuals.  This is the case for all highly contagious diseases, one’s liberty to choose over one’s body ends when that decision affects other individuals in your community.  With Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, one must self-quarantine or vaccinate.  The rights of a community to stay healthy trump any individual’s choice to be infectious.

Things start getting a little bit trickier when one considers the parent’s right to choose what is best for his or her child.  Can a parent choose to risk a child’s health because a parent believes vaccination is worse than the potential for infection? Can a parent choose to have his or her child wear a seatbelt in the car? Can parents choose to feed nothing but Doritos to their kid? Again, the rights of the community trump any person’s choice if that choice endangers others.  A school should most definitely require all attendees to have a set of immunizations completed in order to keep everybody healthy.  But what if the parent decides to home school the child, effectively self-isolating from the community? Should that parent have the right to choose how to raise their children in any way deemed fit?

If you believe that a parent has no grounds to deny a child’s access to health and safety, that a child has a right to get vaccinated, wear a seatbelt and eat broccoli, then it might be useful to consider the question with the following example.  Envision a hypothetical world where scientists discover a solution delivered by injection, administered only in children, that assures that an individual cannot be a homosexual.  Considering that in most of the world, homosexual minorities face greater struggles in life, would you too in this case decide to require a child to receive an anti-homosexual shot? And what if it was discovered (however unscientific and absurd this hypothetical situation admittedly is) that homosexuality was caused by a previously undetectable microbe just as contagious as the flu?

It is undoubtedly a tricky situation and the solution is often a nuanced one.  Public health should be a government responsibility, and sometimes government should be granted permission to use force against those individuals that threaten the safety, in whatever form, of the rest of society.  This too applies when it concerns individuals’ children, because those young human beings have inherent value in themselves, they are not simply an extension of their parents’ freedom to choose.

So when considering this question, one must ask, is this individual’s choice violating the child’s right to be healthy? And is this individual’s decision disregarding the community’s right to be safe? If the answer is yes, and all efforts for persuasion failed, then force against the threat is justified in a free society.  It should be mentioned, however, that enforcing mandatory immunizations on individuals would certainly be extremely difficult to carry out.  Controlling proper parenting, practically impossible.  Hence governments are left with persuasion as the only pragmatic method of guaranteeing the rights of minors, and of communities.