8

This is yet another "How do Libertarians handle ______" question. It was inspired by this comment.


Vaccines are effective for almost everyone who receives them, but not everyone is able to be vaccinated. However, the latter group is usually protected by "herd immunity" when a sufficiently large population around them is vaccinated.

Under my understanding of a Libertarian philosophy, it should be entirely up to the person (or, more likely, their parents) as to whether they/their kid should be vaccinated. But if enough people choose not to be vaccinated, then that impinges on those who can't, but want to be protected.

How would a Libertarian deal with this? Is the answer just "Find a place to live where people have agreed to all vaccinate" (as per this answer), or something else?

  • Isn't it up to the parents to vaccinate or not in most countries right now? It seems to be working out okay without mandating it. – Erik Feb 13 at 6:45
  • 3
    It varies by country, but many (including Italy, France, and Germany) have recently made moves to make it more required. This article seems to cover a lot if it. – Bobson Feb 13 at 7:06
  • Right, but since many jurisdictions (not controlled by Libertarians) don't require it, would it be surprising that some Libertarians would also not require it? – Obie 2.0 Feb 13 at 13:51
  • @Obie2.0 That’s a reasonable question. From that perspective, though, the question I’m asking would be “how do Libertarians feel about this wave of increased mandatory vaccinations?” – Bobson Feb 13 at 14:01
7

There is no simple answer "How would a Libertarian...?" because there are many flavors of Libertarianism. If the refusal to vaccinate endangered only one's own health and life, the obvious libertarian answer would be to leave the choice entirely to that person.

However, there are two concerns:

  1. Majority: A newborn child can't make an informed decision for himself. I guess that most self-described Libertarians would entrust the parents with the responsibility to make the right choice in their child's interest.

  2. External effects: Many Libertarians would agree with coercive measures to compel people to vaccinate themselves, so that a program to eradicate a disease would not fail due to the selfishness or ignorance of a few. The risk that future generations have to either suffer this disease too or continue to vaccinate would be a sufficient reason.

Additional information:

  1. An article at the MisesInstitute about Children and Rights (guardianship, neglect,...)

  2. A PubMed article A libertarian case for mandatory vaccination. by Jason Brennan

  • 2
    This would benefit from citing libertarian saources – user4012 Feb 13 at 13:39
7

I can't speak for all libertarians as we come in all shapes and sizes but I can talk from a philosophical standpoint.

The key to a libertarian utopia is lack of force, you are never forced to do anything, all of your actions are your choice.

With vaccines, no one should be able to force a vaccine on another. Since children cannot consent on their own (there is much debate on this within the libertarian community) we allow the child's parent or guardian to make that choice for the child.

There are consequences to every action. Schools are equally free to not allow non-vaccinated children to attend. Employers are free to not hire you. Store owners are free to not do business with you.

An anti-vaxx family would likely have to home school their child as I can't imagine many schools wanting to take non-vaccinated children as other parents can choose to move their kids to another school.

Alternatively the family could move to a community of anti-vaxx families. Nature would tend to work itself out at this point.

  • 1
    Ooh, that's a nice point. Can't force them to vaccinate, but also can't force the school to let them attend (unlike compulsory education, which requires public schools to take everyone). – Bobson Feb 14 at 20:30
  • 2
    @Bobson are you sure they would be required to take unvaccinated children? According to this article they forbid taking on such children in Oregon. – JJJ Feb 14 at 20:34
  • @JJJ Fair. I should have said "without a change in the laws" or something like that. The default is (was?) to take everyone, but any law requiring it can also be modified to block unvaccinated kids. – Bobson Feb 14 at 21:06
  • +1 for "nature would tend to work itself out at this point" – Geobits Feb 15 at 21:01
  • 1
    @Bobson My understanding is that "compulsory education" generally refers to children having to accept schooling, not school having to accept children. – Acccumulation Mar 13 at 17:05
1

Jason Brennan, a prominent libertarian philosopher, argues libertarian principles support mandatory vaccination: https://jme.bmj.com/content/44/1/37

Charles Blunden modifies Brennan's argument, so that mandatory vaccination is only permissible when herd immunity is compromised: https://jme.bmj.com/content/45/1/71?papetoc=

Doctrinaire libertarianism, at least, recognises that although there are rights, including a right to self-ownership, these rights are not absolute. It is fine for the state to quarantine someone with Ebola, on libertarian views.

-3

I think the recent outbreak of measles in the state of Washington can help answer this question. Opposition to vaccination does not fall neatly along political lines in the US. From my own anecdotal observations self described liberals appear to hold the plurality among so called "anti vaxxers" but there are plenty of conservatives, libertarians, and other political ideologies who hold this view as well.

Washington, for whatever reason, seems to have a larger than usual population of anti vaxxers especially in the Seattle area. As the news coverage of the measle outbreak increased, there was a corresponding increase in demand for measle vaccinations. It seems the fear of contracting measles began to win out over the fear of vaccination. So in this sense the problem is self correcting. There are, of course, non-coercive means of encouraging vaccination.

@xirath alluded to one most libertarians advocate, social ostracism. Most schools and colleges already employ this in the interest of their students. Few colleges will allow admission of a student without proof of vaccination. I recall being required to get an MMR booster when I re-enrolled in college about 12 years ago after an extended absence. It turned out my initial vaccination schedule was given under the guidelines of another state and the college refused to allow me to attend unless I had another shot. They did offer an exemption on religious grounds but my religion did not prohibit vaccination and I saw no reason not to get it again.

Another potential solution is economic self interest. An insurer might charge a higher premium or exclude coverage for treatment to clients who forgo vaccinations. A change in tort law could open the door for restitution if a plaintiff could provide evidence that they contracted a disease as a result of a defendant's refusal to be vaccinated. Though that may be hard to prove. Those are just two other possible solutions.

I'd like to focus on one of your assertions in the question for a moment.

But if enough people choose not to be vaccinated, then that impinges on those who can't, but want to be protected.

This isn't a foregone conclusion. An unvaccinated person is not a sick person. It only increases their chances of contracting a disease. Judging by the number of cases of measles being reported and given that the measles vaccine lasts a very long time it seems a significant portion of the population had been avoiding vaccination for some time without major incident.

  • If you feel the need to downvote my answer, some constructive criticism would be appreciated. – Kenneth Cochran Feb 19 at 19:55
  • 1
    Your last paragraph seems to suggest herd immunity is not real. I imagine that's the reason for the down votes, mine included. Herd immunity is a big thing, whilst it is true that a specific individual may remain safe even at a lower level of vaccination, by its very nature Herd Immunity deals with huge numbers of people, lowering the level of vaccinations means someone somewhere who is unable to vaccinate will get sick or die. ovg.ox.ac.uk/news/herd-immunity-how-does-it-work – Jontia Mar 13 at 10:30
  • In addition to @Jontia's point, I also downvoted because this doesn't address how libertarians feel about mandatory vaccines. I didn't ask about whether anti-vaccine sentiment was unique to them, or what political beliefs tended to support it, which is the question you primarily answered. The one section specifically about libertarianism just restates another answer (as you point out). – Bobson Mar 13 at 14:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.