The debate about vaccines, immunity, and risk to others is often a complicated topic as there is so much information to digest from ethics, to biology, to risk factors.
For the principled Voluntaryist, the question of vaccination is one that is readily answered by going to the root of what vaccination is as relates to individuals and property rights.
First, it’s important to understand what vaccination is and what it is not. Vaccination in modern times is typically the injection of a weakened virus, a piece of a virus, or a toxin produced by a virus or bacteria into the body of an individual, sometimes coupled with an adjuvant (a substance to increase immunity response) to cause the body to produce white blood cells for the sake of fighting off infection from viruses. Vaccines are not cure-alls or some nanotechnology that itself fights infection. Rather, what is injected stimulates the body’s immune system so that the body can fight off future infection from related viruses.
Because the act of vaccination involves an invasion of the body by a foreign object (a needle and solution), the Voluntaryist principle of self-ownership comes into play. Forcing an individual to get a vaccine should be, in-and-of itself, considered an ethical harm without consent of the affected individual.
Some people attempt to say that not vaccinating produces a great risk of harm to others and, thus, people who do not get vaccines are somehow endangering others and should be viewed as committing a rights violation.
This reasoning should be rejected outright when one looks at the nature of viruses and the actual actions taking place in the spread of disease.
As viruses are independent agents that exist within the living cells of an organism, they should not be considered a chosen harm unless specifically procured and produced by an individual.
This would be viewed no differently than someone who finds that a bee’s nest has been established on a tree in their backyard or a rat’s nest has been created in the roof of their home, to their annoyance.
As a person is not responsible for the independent actions of other organisms, people cannot be charged with responsibility for being infected when it is not of their own will.
A person should only be held accountable to the extent they create and/or privatize an independent organism such as intentionally manufacturing anthrax or purchasing a pit bull.
In this framework, individuals are only responsible for their specific property rights claims taken on and are responsible for the actions that stem from that privatization.
The rightful remedy in response to risk concerns of those who are not vaccinated is to make property rules for entry to various venues.
A property owner can make entry to their facilities conditioned on having certain vaccines and, within this permission, be able to bar those who have not had certain vaccines and hold responsible those who violate the rules of the property owner.
This method of robustly respecting the rights of individuals and the rights of property owners is key to delineating when a harm has taken place based on specific actors and actions.
Of course, it should be noted that the fears about a lack of vaccination should be reckoned with the realities of vaccination. Vaccines are not absolute bars to illness and, as many vaccine manufacturers note, there are varying efficacy rates and protection periods depending on the specific brand and content of the vaccine.
In addition, vaccines today do not protect against all possible viral and bacterial infections.
Many who are eager to push vaccination onto others also do not hold themselves to a strict standard of quarantine as they return to work or school well before the infectious period abates (up to two weeks for the common cold and 8 days for the flu).
I mention these facts as a reminder that protection against spreading disease involves more than just vaccination, but a social norm of accepting that people need to be able to stay away from others for extended periods while ill so as to not spread sicknesses.
This, of course, can readily be metered through a robust respect of property rights for all people.
Vaccine History: Developments by Year
Differentiating the wild from the attenuated during a measles outbreak
Period of Flu Contagiousness
How long is someone infectious after a viral infection?
Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
Vaccines for Adults
The Vaccine-Friendly Plan: Dr. Paul’s Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health-from Pregnancy Through Your Child’s Teen Years
Measles Outbreak Traced to Fully Vaccinated Patient for First Time