Different Ideas about Vaccination

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In “The Case Against Libertarian Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination,” Justin Bernstein argues that justifying compulsory vaccination through a policy that promotes welfare is illogical. Bernstein states that welfare argument is invalid because the state is only vindicated in protecting negative rights. Since welfare is not a primary objective, libertarians cannot rightfully justify compulsory vaccination policy. To support this claim Bernstein analyzes separate attempts made by libertarians Robert Nozick and Jessica Flannigan to justify compulsory vaccination. The examples Bernstein includes are intended to represent unsuccessful arguments made in defense of compulsory vaccination policy. “The Welfare Arguments” are unsuccessful because they are overgeneralized and fail to reasonably justify the implementation of policy based on libertarian principles. It is noted that “The Welfare Argument” that substantiates the state’s ability to enforce compulsory vaccination policy is as followed: compulsory vaccination promotes public health and a non-excludable good by protecting citizens against avoidable diseases, promoting community health through the prevention of avoidable diseases increases the individual welfare, and the state is legitimate in implementing coercive measures that uphold the welfare of each citizen and cannot be overridden by the individual rights.

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Bernstein argues that resorting to compulsory vaccination measures contradicts libertarian claims that individuals possess sound negative rights over their body and property. As moral constraints, it would be unlawful to violate them through state coercion. Objections towards the impermissibility of compulsory vaccines interferes with credibility of libertarianism, and Bernstein’s focus is the conflict between policy and libertarianism. Nozick addresses risk imposition as it applies to the states’ permissibility in prohibiting citizens from acting in a way that violates the rights of others and should include compensation. Applied to compulsory vaccinations, this means individuals can be coerced into receiving vaccines and to vaccinate their children but in part should receive monetary compensation. Other libertarians such as Eric Mack believe compensating individuals who have been denied their ability to exercise their rights contradicts the libertarian principle of against paternalism. Associating rights with compensations treats them like commodities that can be purchased with individual consent. Bernstein recognizes how the state neither interferes with nor offers compensation for other rights, for example freedom of religion. Additionally, he expresses that treating the right to “bodily integrity” (793) through the refusal of vaccines differently than other liberties is objectionable. Bernstein states that Nozick’s approach of risk imposition does not present adequate rationale as to why individuals are not permitted to not receive vaccination based on individual liberty. If remaining unvaccinated infringed the rights of others, or was not supported by a right the libertarians would easily be able to validate the state’s permissibility of compulsory vaccination.

Bernstein recognizes Flannigan’s argument that individuals do not have the right to not be vaccinated or impose risk on others which justifies compulsory vaccination. She believes that remaining unvaccinated is as great of a risk as waiving a deadly weapon in the air. Bernstein argues that her approach falls short in justifying the institution of compulsory vaccines for two reasons. First, the imposition of deadly risk is not applicable unless many individuals remain unvaccinated – small groups of unvaccinated individuals pose miniscule risk and does not constitute a rights violation. Secondly, if the absence of a right to impose risk was sufficient justification for the state to coercively prevent individuals from participating in activates, then other activities that the libertarians considered to be protected from state interference should also be eligible to state coercion. Along these lines, the core beliefs of libertarians are individuals “have natural, strong negative rights to property” (Bernstein, 795) which includes governing their own bodies.

  In his paper “A Libertarian Case for Mandatory Vaccination,” Jason Brennan argues that compulsory “government-enforced vaccination can be justified even within a libertarian political framework” (Brennan, 37). Brennan believes the case for mandatory vaccination is strong and justified within the libertarian framework. To support his claim the author references the clean hands principle which is utilized as a moral basis that prevents citizens from engaging “in the collective imposition of unjust harm or risk of harm” (Brennan, 37). It is noted that Brennan does not accept the imposition of vaccination based on the recommended cost-benefit analysis. He believes that coercing individuals to receive vaccines is an enforceable obligation that serves the common good, that being unvaccinated imposes unnecessary risk to others and justified based on libertarian framework. Along these lines, Brennan’s argument is not whether libertarianism is true, but that mandatory vaccination can be justified among

Brennan acknowledges that the common political views believed to be held by libertarians is individuals are self-owned and possess strong and “absolute rights against interference” (Brennan 38). He argues that group of libertarians that believe negative rights are absolute account for only a minority and that most libertarians believe that rights can be violated to prevent disaster. Assuming libertarians do not take absolutist position then justifying compulsory vaccination on the following arguments is feasible: Individuals possess strong non-absolute rights to refuse medication that “can be overridden to prevent disaster” (Brennan 38), if the vast majority of citizens do not receive vaccines against preventable diseases then there would be a disaster and therefore, coercive vaccination policy is permissible. The author compares the spreading of disease to disaster. He points out that if the growing minority refuses vaccination then the statistically low long-term implications could grow into long-term consequences which constitutes a disaster that trumps individual rights.

Brennan argues that vaccination advocates can also defend compulsory vaccination on grounds of “hard paternalism” which “refers to government policies that coerce citizens into performing certain actions, or avoiding other actions, for their own good” (Brennan 38). Libertarians are reluctant to start with this argument because they feel that adults’ rights to make children must be respected. Vaccines are “a largely collective action,” (Brennan 39) which involves the whole population and not just children. When the argue of paternalism is applied it complicates the issue because it requires clear parameters of the rights of the guardian in making decisions for the child and the child’s rights within the guardianship. However, Brennan feels that if vaccines can be used as a tool to prevent individuals from causing unjust harm or risk for other citizens then they are grounds for libertarians justifying compulsory vaccination.

In “Conscientious Objection to Vaccination” Clarke, Giubilini and Walker examine the conscientious reasons for vaccine refusal. The authors believe that conscientious objections include moral, philosophical and religious reasons. The two questions they focus on are: should individuals be entitled to conscious objections to compulsory vaccination for both their children and themselves and if individuals are entitled to conscious objections (CO), what restrictions or requirements should those objections be based on? Do you need question marks for both questions and should you capilatize Should?  The authors argue that in lieu of receiving vaccinations, objectors must make a reasonable contribution to society. The contribution should be dependent on the seriousness of the disease, the harm associated with refusing the vaccine and the morbidity of the disease. Another factor is whether CO threatens the herd immunity within a given population. If the number of CO continue to increase in regard to highly contagious or severe diseases this would pose a serious threat. Therefore, the requirements for individuals to refuse vaccination based on CO could be impermissible. 

The authors believe that ethical concerns, philosophical discussions and epistemic questions revolving vaccines have been addressed, but the permissibility and handling of CO is a unknown. To analyze the two questions presented in the journal, Clarke, Giubilini and Walker study the analogy between CO to military service and CO to vaccination. The policies, practices and responses of CO to military service is a similar and well-developed in respect to recognizing individual rights, state objectives and military needs. The first section focuses on the ethical reasoning supporting the treatment of CO to military services. Policies have been instituted in the US, UK, and Australia for individuals who possess CO to military service and war. Objectors are typically given non-combatant or civic roles that do not work directly with military services but that support the welfare of society. The length of these duties can be up to twice the length of military service. Objectors must prove through tribunal assessment that their CO are real. The tribunal focuses on validity rather than sincerity. Since individuals cannot participate in military service, they have a duty to uphold their society and make additional contributions by taking on commensurate roles during periods of crisis.  Another reason to justify duties assigned to objectors is to ensure that they are not “free-riding” (Clarke, Giubilini and Walker, 158). The number of free-riders must remain low for society to survive.

Clarke, Giubilini and Walker argue that infectious disease is comparable to threat of an opposing military force and war. It affects national security and societal and political stability. The analogy of war and disease extends beyond duties of contagion prevention and includes sub-duties outlining conduct during outbreaks such as quarantines. Individuals have a duty to follow outbreak protocol. They also have a duty to prevent outbreaks and participate in herd immunity through receiving vaccination. The authors express that the imposition of vaccination is just based on appealing to public safety or national security. This duty includes three costs that the individual assumes: personal risk, liberty cost, and utility cost. Liberty cost refers to the “principle of liberty” and utility cost includes medical appointments and distress associated with being vaccinated. This approach denies the right to object and the costs should correspond with benefits. The last section examines key implications of vaccination policy. The two general policy implications that accompany CO are objectors must be able to provide evidence of sincerity in objecting to vaccination and they have responsibility to contribute to the well-being of their society.



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Different Ideas About Vaccination. (2019, Nov 26). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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