Last month, Vermont joined Mississippi and West Virginia to become the third state in the nation to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for school-entry immunizations. This is a clear victory for those who agree with the overwhelming scientific and ethical consensus that universal immunizations safely and effectively save lives of vaccinated children (as well as those those who live, work, and play around them) and a blow to vaccine refuseniks who fight the obvious with their false experts, logical fallacies, cherry-picked “facts,” and conspiracy theories.
But there is another group of Vermonters who joined the anti-vaccine crowd to fight passage of the new vaccine exemption law by simply sticking to the libertarian principles for which New England is known for. (Vermont’s motto is “Freedom and Unity”; New Hampshire’s is “Live Free or Die”). For them, voting to remove philosophical and religious exemptions is akin to voting to remove citizens’ freedom of choice — freedom to decide what’s best for themselves and their children, without government mandates. For me it sounds like a valid argument — until one remembers that it pits public health against personal freedoms. And my bias tends to side with public health. Correctly calling vaccines “the world’s most effective public-health tool,” The New Yorker’s Michael Specter looks at both sides and argues that Vermonters share that bias for the common good:
Data and science are obviously not the only issues that matter in this debate. But it’s hard to see how all rights can be equal: if parents want their children to remain unprotected from vaccinations, perhaps they should have that right. But should those children then be allowed near other students, in public places like playgrounds, or anywhere else where they could infect people with weakened immune systems? By removing the philosophical objection, at least one state has begun to say no.