Jared Miller, February 26, 2017
Recently, a follower asked the libertarian view on vaccinations. This is a tough one, as many different personal opinions shade the answer. So it is necessary to keep in mind that libertarianism is a theory of government, not a personal philosophy. Unlike the other major ideologies, this leaves room for you to have whatever personal beliefs or moral foundation you believe best. Libertarians are in agreement that the use of organized force for any reason other than the protection of individual rights is wrong. Outside of that, all bets are off!
There is no single libertarian position on vaccines. You can find within the libertarian party people who are pro-vax, anti-vax, hetero-vax, homo-vax, bi-vax, trans-vax, vax-fluid or any of the other 52-63 vax-related positions. Just make sure you use the right pronouns when you talk to them.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s only focus for now on the part of the question that deals with government involvement, and not go into whether or not they are effective, or should be taken at all. Libertarians believe that you have the right to decide what goes into your body. If you decide to vaccinate, by all means go ahead! If your personal beliefs prevent you from taking them, it’s your decision. If you want to make an animal sacrifice to the Egyptian goddess Isis to ward off sickness and keep your family healthy, hey… whatever. We aren’t here to make judgements about right, wrong, or ridiculous. We are only concerned with legality.
No law should be able to require you to vaccinate. Mandatory vaccination goes against our belief that the only just purpose of the law is to protect you from assaults on your rights to life liberty and property. Since forcing you to take a shot or to put anything else inside your body against your will is by definition assault, according to the libertarian worldview it is wrong.
Now that doesn’t mean that vaccination can’t be incentivized in some way. For example, certain schools may require vaccination as a condition of attendance. Of course, libertarians would prefer that this happen in conjunction with school choice so that it is easy to move from one school to another. The same might happen in the workforce, especially among large employers like factories where sickness is easily spread from one person to the next. Additionally, many organizations may offer certain vaccinations for free. Since these are all voluntary arrangements, there is no moral dilemma. All of these are already being done, or can be done, without being enforced at the point of a gun.
However, in the interest of a complete answer, it is important to point out that there are some libertarians who see your refusal to vaccinate as a potential assault on the life of others. If you are not immunized, you could spread deadly diseases to those who are unable to vaccinate or are too young. And since having more vaccinated people makes those vaccinations more effective, they make the case for mandatory vaccination as a means of preventing that possibility. At this point this remains a very small group, and does not reflect the dominant point of view.
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