What’s So Bad About Forced Immunization ?
Writing over at Asymmetrical Information, Megan McArdle a/k/a Jane Galt, wonders what’s so bad about forcing parents to have their pre-teen daughters immunized against the HPV virus:
Vaccination does its best work through herd immunity–which is to say, denying the virus a sufficient number of people to make a disease reservoir. That’s why socially irresponsible dimwits in America can now excercise their beautiful freedom of choice not to vaccinate their children . . . because they’re free riding on everyone else’s willingness to bear the very rare side effects. I promise you that if it weren’t for herd immunity, those parents would be a hell of a lot more worried about actual polio than the vaccination for it. Call me a bad libertarian, but public health campaigns like these seem to me to be one of the few cases where government coercion is a slam dunk–much better than, say, income taxes or speed limits.
HPV is a nasty virus that is imperfectly blocked by condoms, incurable, and causes an appalling cancer that kills many women and renders others infertile. The vaccine is, to be sure, expensive. But as public spending goes, the possibility of eliminating an awful disease seems a pretty good use of $140.
All of this may be true, but the question that remains unanswered is this — who should be responsible for deciding what medical care a child should recieve, her parents or the state ?
There is no question that cervical cancer is a horrible disease, and the vaccine against the HPV virust that appears to cause it in most cases is a major victory for medical science. Nonetheless, cervical cancer is fundamentally different from other public health threats such as typhoid or influenza in that it takes far more than casual contact for the disease to spread. For this reason alone, the “public health” argument in favor of making the HPV vaccine mandatory is weakened. Add to that the issue of whether it is even appropriate to be giving a vaccine like this to pre-teen girls, and I think it’s fairly clear that the right of parents to determine their child’s medical treatment
is far outweighed by far outweighs the state’s interest in protecting public health.