Compulsory vaccination is not just about choice

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I quite liked vaccinations when we got them in school. You were allowed to leave a lesson, have a sit down, maybe a cup of orange juice if you made yourself look a little queasy. Not that I knew anything about them, really – just that it stopped me from getting ill and the whole process took minutes. So I’m not against it.

Neither is the Australian government, which this month announced a ‘no jab, no pay policy’. It stipulates that if you don’t vaccinate your children, unless for extreme medical or religious circumstances (a discussion in itself), you won’t get your welfare. A smart, scientific policy, or a way to cut government spending? But first things first. This policy is the direct result of a growing trend of parents rejecting vaccinations worldwide. “Who on earth is objecting to vaccinations,” you ask, “and why?’ To find out, let’s play Ask a Libertarian.

Hello, Mr Libertarian. Can you define “libertarian” for us? “Of course. A libertarian is someone who strives for liberty; that’s the primary aim. I want to maximise individual freedom of choice. Therefore I’d generally like a smaller state; a laissez-faire government on my Christmas list. I believe in sovereignty of the individual. Fundamentally, I don’t want anything forced upon me. Not even vaccinations.” But vaccinations prevent diseases. Why wouldn’t you want you or your kids to be vaccinated? “Well there’s evidence suggesting vaccinations can in fact be harmful, leading to autism –” You mean the 1998 Wakefield paper which manipulated evidence, was widely discredited, fully retracted and clashes with every other doctor, scientist and piece medical evidence, like, ever? “Er, well, the choice is mine. It may be good, it may be bad –” It’s not bad. “But I want the freedom to choose. The government should not be able to force me or my children to do anything.” Thank you, Mr Libertarian. The End.

Of course, most of those who reject vaccines wouldn’t identify as a libertarian, it being such a broad philosophical and political ideology. However, there’s a clear libertarian streak in our society today: the idea that my life is my own and mine only. My body is mine and no one can tell me what I can or can’t do with it. And that’s only right. The trouble is when this idea begins to harm others. Jump back to 2013, Swansea, where there was a measles outbreak. The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine that most of us receive as children, was rejected by parents thanks to the fear that that the Wakefield paper stoked up, leading to 1,455 measles cases in Wales at a cost of £470,000 in treatment and control, and one death: Gareth Colfer-Williams, who died from pneumonia brought on by the measles. To be sure, there are some extremely rare adverse reactions to the vaccine, but they’re usually just rashes or malaise. Some people have the same with strawberries. And, though delicious, they don’t stop you from contracting possibly fatal diseases. So it’s all well and good if you feel that you really must reject a vaccine, but it can affect other people, like the children too young to get those shots, for example.

But back to Australia and the somewhat brave policy the government has established. Ostensibly it’s a good, scientifically driven policy, but it’s a shame that the policy is needed. A cynical attempt at cutting government spending? I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that they’re prioritising less spending over healthy kids. Agree with years of research from the medical and scientific community, spend a blink of an eye vaccinating your kids, and get your welfare. No fuss. On the other hand, regardless of the evidenced success of vaccines, it is an attempt to limit freedom of choice. I’m instinctively hostile to anything that does so.

This policy, however, I’d accept. Why? Because of “freedom to” versus “freedom from”. In this case the freedom from contracting certain diseases and being barred from welfare, outweighs the freedom to not inoculate your kids. And hey, you can still choose not to do it. It’s just a stupid choice. You know why the “You’re a True 90s Kid if You Remember These” lists don’t feature “that time when you and your friends contracted measles/polio lol”? Because you got vaccinated. So, while I defend your right to choose, I reserve the right to tell you that not vaccinating is a dangerous and stupid choice.

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