Anti-Vaxxers and the Right To Bear Arms
Those of us in Australia have probably heard of the new laws that have been introduced in NSW that would fine childcare centres who enrol children that are not immunised unless their parents can prove immunisation was against their religion or would cause a dangerous medical reaction.
You may have also heard that in response to these laws the “controversial” anti-vaccine campaigner Meryl Dorey has been encouraging anti-vaccine parents to join sham churches that have been set up to exploit this loophole in the legislation.
I was having a discussion about this with a friend who thought the decision to not vaccinate was dangerous but defended the parents freedom and right to choose for their child. While I am very much in favour of freedom, and a strong defender of it, I found this to be analogous to the gun control debate (except, I suspect, the chance of contracting a vaccine-preventable disease if no one was vaccinated would actually be higher than the chance of getting shot if everyone was armed with guns – but I have no data to support that instinct).
In Australia we have had strong gun control since 1996. This was enacted following about 13 mass shootings in the 18 years prior and has been incredibly effective for public safety. For an amazing, enlightening and not to mention hilarious take on it watch The Daily Show’s John Oliver explain:
We all know there is a constant tension in society to balance the freedom of the one compared with the freedom of the many. However, in Australia, I do not have the freedom to bring a firearm into my place of work. This is a decision that we have collectively made (using the proxy of government) to ensure the safety of society and the greater freedom for people not to be attacked with a firearm nor to even be worried that they might easily be attacked with a firearm.
This does not mean that we have no guns in Australia nor that no one is allowed to bring them into their workplace. For example, trained and licenced policemen and farmers will cary them and will use them. While some people in our society have the freedom to carry and use guns, they have clear restrictions for their use and face severe consequences if they are misused.
Further more, and most importantly, I am fortunate that my (fictional) crazy neighbour isn’t allowed that same “freedom” or “right” to easily obtain and carry a gun just because he thinks that the aliens from his nightmares have hijacked his wife’s body and are about to try and occupy his skin.
Now I’ll take you back to the vaccine debate. There are absolutely real medical reasons why some people cannot take some vaccines, and I will fight for their right to safety by not taking those vaccines and being protected by community immunity. However, in my humble opinion, it would be crazy of us to not have any deterring consequences and to allow people to just choose to not vaccinate their children because of debunked, unscientific and irrational fears. It would be as crazy as allowing my fictional alien-fearing neighbour to obtain a firearm. Instead my fictional neighbour would be better served by a mental health specialist.
People may see this as a straw man or a false analogy. I welcome any criticism and would happily hear it. However, I’m not sure who would be more offended by the analogy – anti-vaxxers, firearm zealots or just libertarians (who I would side with on many issues).
All things considered, the most important rights I see are those rights of the child to have access to adequate medical care, for everyone to be well informed about all the benefits and risks of vaccines, and for society to be protected by a strong community immunity. Simply put, ignorance is no excuse when lives are on the line.
Finally, I recommend everyone watch the new documentary “Jabbed” while it is still available to stream online for those in Australia.
Stay safe everyone!
[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by luisdiazart]