Personal Freedom Isn’t A Valid Argument Against Vaccination

Do you know why it’s legal to drink, but illegal to drink and drive?

It’s not to protect you. It’s to protect the people around you.

Here in the United States, we’re big on personal freedom (for the most part). If you want to get wasted every night and wreck your liver, hey, that’s your right. You can do whatever you want to your own body.

There is, however, a hard line to your personal freedom, and you cross that line when you harm other people. If you drink, you’ll only hurt yourself, so that’s legal. If you drink and drive, you stand a pretty good chance of hurting someone else. And that’s not legal.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Now, let’s take the idea of personal freedom and see how it applies to vaccines. This is the most common anti-vaccine argument we hear nowadays:

Anti-vaxxer: “Vaccines are dangerous. They are full of nasty chemicals and cause autism in kids.”

Rational person: “Actually, no. While there are rare cases where people can’t get vaccinated for various physiological reasons, vaccines have been categorically demonstrated to be harmless. There is zero scientific evidence that they cause autism, and furthermore, any purported studies to the contrary have been thoroughly debunked at this point.”

Anti-vaxxer: “Well, whatever. It’s still a matter of personal freedom then. I have the right to choose what goes into my own body.”

It’s on this point that anti-vaxxers believe they’ve scored the grand slam dunk hat trick jackpot golden ticket.

Ahem. No.

That is not the case at all, and I’ll prove my point using simple logic:

Remember, there is a hard limit to your personal freedom. You have every right to harm yourself, but you have no right to harm others.

So when you, hypothetical anti-vaxxer, say this:

“I have a right to choose what to do to my own body. Even if choosing not to get vaccinated hurts me in the long run, that is my call to make.”

While the argument seems impeccable on first glance, it has one fatal flaw:

It is predicated on the assumption that vaccines don’t work in the first place.

Basically, you’re arguing that vaccines don’t work. And when you’re shown overwhelming evidence that vaccines do work, you retreat to a secondary argument … which is constructed entirely on the assumption that vaccines don’t work.

Well, that’s not how logic and rationalism work.

Really, all you’re demonstrating is that you have no idea what vaccines actually do. You see, there’s this concept called “herd immunity.” For a vaccine to be effective, as many people as possible need to be vaccinated. The fewer people who are vaccinated within a given population, the more likely those nasty diseases we’re trying to eradicate will sneak through.

Maybe an analogy will explain the process more clearly. Imagine a wall of soldiers lined up on a battlefield:

Hobbit Shield Wall

If every soldier is properly armed, they will be able to hold their ground against an invading army. Pretty simple concept, right?

Now, imagine that a few soldiers slack off and leave their shields at home on battle day. It’s not hard to grasp that if enough soldiers are missing their shields, the army as a whole isn’t going to stand much of a chance defending itself.

This is exactly how vaccines work. Each individual person who gets vaccinated is a single shield against an invading horde of terrifying viruses lurking all over the world. If everyone is vaccinated, their shields will form one single impenetrable wall, and diseases won’t be able to spread.

But as more and more people choose not to be vaccinated, more and more holes open up in the wall, and then at some point, pretty much this happens:


This is what we saw at Disneyland just last year, when measles broke out in the park. So many parents in Southern California had chosen not to vaccinate their kids that the virus managed to break through and create a mini-epidemic.

And that’s why vaccination isn’t an issue of personal freedom.

Vaccines only work because everyone has to get them. The only exceptions we can make are those people with certain medical conditions where taking vaccines will in fact harm them. These cases are rare, though, and it’s up to doctors to make this call. They’re the ones trained to recognize these cases.

Individuals don’t get to make the call, because when they do, herd immunity breaks down. Just like it did in Disneyland last year.

Every time you forgo a vaccination, you are crossing a very tangible line from harming yourself to harming others. You are contributing to the destruction of our collective herd immunity. Choosing not to vaccinate yourself isn’t like choosing to drink alcohol. It’s more like choosing to drink and drive.

And you do not have that right.

Therefore, just as it’s valid for the government to say, “Oh, hell no. You had damned well better not be driving if you’re drunk,” it’s also perfectly valid for them to say, “Oh, hell no. You will get your ass vaccinated, because we’re not going to risk another epidemic from a disease we eradicated decades ago.”

So if you’re a parent, take your kids to the doctor, and get them their vaccinations. And if it does turn out that your kids are one of the few who can’t get vaccines for medical reasons? Then at least rest assured that they’ll be protected by the herd immunity of all the other kids around them.

In fact, if your kids do fall into this group, then you should be the one pushing for mandatory vaccinations. Because herd immunity protects them more than anyone else.

That’s how vaccines work.

Seriously, though, just stop with the personal freedom argument. Because it is flawed to its core.

If you really want to cling to your anti-vaccination beliefs, your best option at this point is the conspiracy argument — you know, the one that rejects every last shred of scientific evidence because it’s all part of a massive conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to buy off every government on the planet. (That’s right, it’s not just the American government that supports vaccinations.)

Oh, don’t get me wrong. We’ll still roll our eyes at you if you truly believe in the conspiracy. But then, at least we can laugh at your utter lunacy, too. And maybe even sell you some tin foil to make protective headgear out of.

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  • I always tell to such people:
    “Well, then go live by yourself/selves in an isolated community that has no contact with the rest of the world.
    But if you live in this society you don’t have the right to hurt other people just because you don’t agree with vaccination”.
    I like your parallel with “don’t drink and drive”, I’m going to borrow it for future discussions… 😉

  • Rebecca Sullins

    Ok, so as a parent, I have entered this conversation multiple times. And I’ll go ahead and tell you what the next argument is going to be, before someone below beats me to it.

    “But natural immunity is better than vaccine immunity! Vaccines require boosters, because they’re obviously faulty. But natural immunity is forever.”

    Then, when you successfully refute that point, they’re going to go with “But pertussis isn’t that bad! People get it all the time, and survive! My great-grandparents didn’t get the vaccines we did, and they survived!” Which, they’re usually screaming at you while strapping their infant into their $300 Diono carseat which sits in the back of their GMC Acadia with full front and side airbags using the LATCH system with a tether.

    Then, if they’re super desperate, they’ll move on to “Well, they’re weaker then, and maybe they shouldn’t be passing their weak genes on to future generations anyway!” Not joking. Seen this argument a lot.

    I have a million more. Because they will move that goalpost to every single inch of the field, and then spin it. Because they’re terrible people. There’s a Facebook group called “Things Anti-Vaxxers Say,” if you ever feel like hating the human race, check it out.

    And this is coming from the Libertarian. People always try to call me a hypocrite for that… but “my right to swing my fists ends at the other man’s nose.”

    • Ha, I love this:

      “my right to swing my fists ends at the other man’s nose.”

      That’s a very resullins comment to make. :-p

    • Rebecca Sullins

      Oh, how I would love to take credit for that one! That quote has been attributed to a lot of different people, but so far I’m not one of them!!! It’s a common response in the Lib circles to where personal freedom ends.

    • Gotcha. You might want to clarify what you mean by “Lib,” though … 🙂

      • Rebecca Sullins

        “And this is coming from the Libertarian. People always try to call me a hypocrite for that… but “my right to swing my fists ends at the other man’s nose.”

        I already clarified it! 😉

    • Oh, I know you did. I just found it to be a funny way to shorten the term. Without any context, it could be a bit … misleading, yeah? 🙂

      • Rebecca Sullins

        BWAHAHAHA! Oh… yeah. I forget there are people out there that haven’t met me and know I’m not a liberal. That’s a good point!

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