I am not against public health efforts when the behavior of one person puts another at direct physical risk. Â You cannot drain your toilet directly into the local water table even if it all happens on your property, and you do not have a right to expose others to tuberculosis. Â Similarly with vaccines. Â The government does not have a right to mandate vaccination for your own good. Â But it does have a right to do so when being unvaccinated is a physical threat to others who engage in normal behavior.
This is one area I wander way off the libertarian reservation on, since I generally understand the requirement that children be vaccinated against communicable diseases before they enroll in public schools. I wouldn’t even, on principle, have an issue with mandatory vaccination in the middle of an outbreak of a communicable disease that was killing large number of people.
So I don’t hold it against Perry that he required the Gardasil vaccine for Texas school children. HPV is a communicable disease, and no matter how much social conservatives fret about it, high school aged, and sometimes even middle school aged kids have sex. The consequences of HPV for women is cervical cancer, which can be quite deadly. This is a disease which is bad enough that our goal, from a public health viewpoint, ought to be its eradication, much like what happened with smallpox. In order to accomplish eradication, everyone has to be immunized.
Libertarians would argue that the state can’t force individuals to subject themselves to even the extremely rare risks posed by the vaccine. In regards to most other subjects, or in regards to diseases that also rarely kill people, or are uncommunicative, I would agree. I would not, for instance, want to see mandatory flu vaccines, unless it was a particularly deadly strain of flu. But when you are potentially heading off a disease that can you could potentially spread to other people, which stands a strong likelihood of killing them, I think the public need outweighs the individual’s sovereignty.
It’s much the same principle that underlies the government’s power to compel military service, which is another area I wander off the libertarian reservation over.