Do We Need a Vaccine for Hubris?

Column by D. Saul Weiner.

Exclusive to STR

There are a lot of heated exchanges going on right now in social media related to vaccination. Many people have become convinced that parents who do not vaccinate are jeopardizing the health of others and that vaccines for children should be mandated. Politicians who are expected to run for president in 2016 are starting to weigh in on the topic and some of them are coming out in favor of mandatory vaccination.

Given what we know about vaccines, this situation should not come as a surprise. After all, we have been told that vaccines have saved millions of lives and wiped out deadly and debilitating diseases. They have dramatically increased life expectancy and only rarely cause serious harm (only 1 in a million cases). Without vaccines, we might see the high infant and child mortality rates seen today in Third World countries. With that understanding, for most people the decision about whether or not to vaccinate their kids is a no-brainer. Why would any rational person turn their back on vaccination?

But arguments rest upon their premises. If we start with faulty premises, then we are likely to come to the wrong conclusion, no matter how logical and rational we may be. So if it turns out that our premises overstate the potential benefits of vaccination and understate the risks, then we will hold a more favorable view of vaccination than we would if we held a more accurate assessment of the risks and benefits. With that in mind, let’s reexamine many of these premises and see if they hold water or if there is more to the story than what we have been told. What if we have been misled?

Potential Benefits of Vaccination

  • What if the marked decline in mortality from infectious diseases was NOT due to vaccination, but was a result of other factors, such as improvements in sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and working conditions?
  • What if the mortality from infectious diseases was in steep decline before the introduction of vaccines?
  • What if previously deadly diseases which were not vaccinated for (such as typhoid fever and scarlet fever) died out along with the ones which were vaccinated for?
  • What if the smallpox vaccine did NOT wipe out that disease?
  • What if many of the diseases we still have today, were actually diagnosed as polio prior to the vaccine?
  • What if we are currently vaccinating against diseases which are generally mild and, when contracted naturally, confer a lifetime of immunity and strengthen our immune system?
  • What if vaccines only confer immunity for a limited period of time and, as a result, many adults today have little or no immunity to diseases they were vaccinated against while growing up?
  • What if it were possible to prevent serious harm from occurring if one were to contract a disease such as polio or measles, by using high doses of certain nutrients?

Risks of Vaccination

The Vaccine Skepticism Movement

  • What if skepticism about the advisability of vaccination is not a new phenomenon and has, in fact, been around as long as vaccines have?
  • What if there have always been doctors, scientists, parents, and other educated people who believed that vaccines were more harmful than helpful?
  • What if many of the maligned so-called “anti-vaccine” people started out with conventional views and only changed their minds after their child was severely injured or killed by a vaccine?
  • What if those who promote caution and skepticism in regard to vaccination are not a threat to public health and are, in fact, providing a valuable service to society by challenging others to become better informed about the risks and benefits of vaccination?

What if the chances are one in a million that what we have been taught about vaccines is correct?

Friedrich Hayek made the following statement:

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. To the naive mind that can conceive of order only as the product of deliberate arrangement, it may seem absurd that in complex conditions order, and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions and that a division of authority will actually extend the possibility of overall order. Yet that decentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account.” ~ The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (1988), p. 76

What if health care decisions cannot be centrally planned and are best made by individuals and parents?

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D. Saul Weiner's picture
Columns on STR: 2

Comments

Paul's picture

Thanks for collecting these links in one place.

My take on all this is that these are (if I'm not mistaken) somewhat utilitarian arguments. I would add to your questions, "What if mandatory vaccinations reduces the percentage of parents who subjects their children to vaccines?" This question is somewhat similar to the homeschooling question; the more people are forced to do something with their children, the more they (or some of them, anyway) will resist. Forcing people is an instant admission of error, of illegitimacy.

In a free world. I'm pretty sure there would still be vaccines, and probably pretty high usage of them, but I suspect they would typically be used later in life and not combined and not have included such things as mercury.

D. Saul Weiner's picture

Paul, thanks for the feedback.
 
I agree that these are utilitarian arguments. What is interesting is that I normally emphasize moral arguments over utilitarian ones. In this case, I thought it was necessary to focus on these objective issues because I believe that a great many people are so consumed by fear when this topic comes up that they cannot really rationally consider whether or not it is right to force others to be medicated without informed consent. When people are really afraid, they will reflexively support measures that appear to provide safety. So I think that in order to get through to people who think that deadly infectious diseases would spread like wildfire without widespread vaccination, it is necessary to provide some perspective on the topic for them, to help them see why it is extremely unlikely that this would be the case.
 
It is hard to say for sure what kind of utilization of vaccines we might see in a free world. It seems to me that if we were not exposed to incessant government propaganda, phony research, legal privileges for suppliers, and mandates (many people already believe that they need to vaccinate their kids in order for them to go to school, even though there are exemptions currently), the support for vaccination might be much lower than it is today. Of course, if it were to turn out that in a free society with informed consent vaccination remained very popular, I would fully respect the decisions of those who go that route. Let the free market decide.

Mark Davis's picture

Well done Saul!  You covered a complex and controversial topic in a broad yet succinct manner.  Thank you.

D. Saul Weiner's picture

Thanks you for your kind words.