By Ben Carr
In Prasad Krishnamurthy’s article “The Paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate” we see a textbook case of oversimplified arguments, based on the assumption of collective responsibility for health, that are the cornerstone of the authoritarian justification for vaccine mandates. The article introduces its argument in the context of the increasingly apparent lack of efficacy of current COVID vaccines and mRNA treatments.
Essentially, it is the lack of effectiveness that justifies strong measures to impose vaccination on the unwilling. This may seem odd, and to the reasonable reader not really germane to the debate of individual choice, but Krishnamurthy’s intent is to justify imposition based on the notion that only through broad implementation can resolution be reached given the lack of effectiveness of current medical technology.
Krishnamurthy’s argument is framed around a hypothetical individual American named “Robert,” who is, and chooses to remain, unvaccinated (The paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate 2021). The immediate address is that Robert’s disinterest in receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 represents a potential threat to others and therefore his individual rights are superseded by “public benefit” (The paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate 2021).
This argument is overly simplistic and assumes that vaccines are universally applicable, carrying little to no risk. This assumption is simply not true. Firstly, it is clear that some with particular allergies may experience anaphylaxis or other reactions to the vaccine (Selected adverse events reported AFTER COVID-19 Vaccination 2021). Secondly, some injections may lead to the onset of issues of like thrombosis, or blood clotting (especially in women under 50), myocarditis and pericarditis in males under 30, and even cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (Selected adverse events reported AFTER COVID-19 Vaccination 2021).
It is also clear that more definitive data regarding such safety issues for mRNA injections will not be effectively determined until 2023, as Pfizer admitted in its own study (Study to describe the SAFETY, TOLERABILITY, immunogenicity, and efficacy of RNA vaccine candidates Against COVID-19 in healthy individuals, 2021). Put simply, there are in fact numerous risks that may represent a credible threat to health and such issues should be considered by individuals and their personal physicians when coming to a decision.
The generalist attitude of “just get the shot” represent a gross disregard for health at the individual level, anticipating such injuries are a small price to pay for overall impact. While such callousness may seem contradictory to the intent it is precisely because collective response, and not individual health, is the driving force that such people are relegated to the position of acceptable loss.
Krishnamurthy’s position is also largely predicated on the notion that vaccination has substantial impact on transmissibility of the virus, which the CDC has admitted they do not, and viral loads are functionally the same (Wamsley, 2021).
It is this last fallacy on which Krishnamurthy bases his argument for government mandate, that the government has the right to violate bodily autonomy and impose medical risk if it leads to the potential mitigation of risks for others. Now Krishnamurthy does admit that such imposition can rightly be argued against if there is the admittance that individuals are functionally responsible for their own health, which I would assert is in fact the case with COVID-19. Krishnamurthy hopes to circumnavigate the notion of personal responsibility in regards to health and justify the violation of bodily autonomy in five scenarios, which he seems to feel are broad enough.
The first is that vaccination is not available for children and that in lieu of such a development, everyone is obligated to be vaccinated to preserve them given they have no option to be afforded that “protection”. Firstly, let us address the reality that the mortality rate for COVID-19 in those deemed too young for inoculation is less than 2 per million, and that addressing children as a vulnerable group is alarmism without scientific grounding (Deaths in children and young people in England following Sars-cov-2 infection during the First pandemic year: A national study using linked MANDATORY child death reporting data 2021). Secondly, while Krishnamurthy is correct that the onus does not lay with the child, it also does not lay with “society as a whole”, but with the parents/guardians of the child. Just as it is not the responsibility of a stranger to feed or house a child in which they had no say or creative role, it is also not the responsibility of strangers to forgo bodily autonomy for a child in whose creation they played no role. There is no compelling evidence that the danger posed by COVID-19, which has low mortality rates, and high numbers of symptomless infection, should alter this basic intersection of medicine and human rights.
The second is that many deemed minorities rightfully distrust the medical community, especially as it relates to government initiative. While never explicitly addressed one cannot but help imagine the refence here is most likely the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis.
The first implication is this argument is that while such distrust is earned that no such mistrust is valid regarding COVID vaccines and mRNA injections. Why Krishnamurthy is so certain that minority communities have nothing to fear is not made clear, only that such circumstances do not apply here. Given the history of such abuses it would seem germane to address such realistic concerns with concrete assurances, yet Krishnamurthy has none to give. The second, even poorer, implication is that given these poor past experiences such minority groups, while not being accountable for rejecting vaccination, lack proper perspective and ability to correctly discern, and should be vaccinated for their own good. As he puts it,
Society may also believe that communities that have faced historical discrimination and are distrustful of the health care system do not bear full responsibility for their decisions not to get vaccinated and deserve some protection from that decision through vaccine mandates.”(The paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate 2021).
The argument is typical of the condescension and general lack of respect for minorities that prevails in much of America, in which such individuals lack both intellect and perspective, and are so in need of aid that control of their lives is a blessing to them and an obligation to those who are deemed to be not so hampered. That such individuals may have the intellect and ability to address cost/risk analysis for their own persons is never considered. This level of paternal condescension is both crass and infantilizing.
The third is that those without residences and those immigrants who are undocumented may also not have access, or at least the same ease of access as others. This may be true, but that doesn’t make a compelling argument for shifting of responsibility on the part of individuals to vaccinate, but rather for vaccine availability for those who wish it despite such status. Similar arguments can be made for Krishnamurthy’s address of lack of access in less developed nations.
Indeed, those with fewer opportunities to maintain personal health and natural immunity are more in need than those who are healthy and living in clean environments. The notion that these people are better protected when those already apt to be healthy receive additional protection is spurious at best.
The fourth is that existing vaccines are imperfect and as such do not reduce transmissibility and hospitalization at adequate rates. He notes that, “even if vaccines reduce the likelihood of hospitalization by close to 90 percent, 10 percent of the total number of hospitalizations to date is still a big number.” (The paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate 2021). True enough, but declining effectiveness speaks to a failure of product, not its general acceptance. The whole argument hinges upon the myth of swift creation of herd immunity, which is not possible given the conditions noted in argument three regarding availability. It should be noted as well that numerous conditions beyond vaccination status contribute to hospitalization, like immune-deficiency, obesity, heart and respiratory issues, and numerous other pre-existing conditions.
The reality is that existing health conditions are the predominate factor in the experienced severity of the illness, not vaccine status. The existing injections are shield, and shield that diminishes in effectiveness quickly, especially when compared to natural immunity as has been demonstrated in the recent Israeli study (Does sars-cov-2 natural infection immunity better protect against the Delta variant than vaccination? 2021).
Lastly, Krishnamurthy address another collectivist notion, since society (whatever that seems to Krishnamurthy’s mind to be, as it is a ill-defined and often loaded word) often bears some cost for medical care and therefore should be able to impose health decisions on individuals to mitigate those expenses. Two things should be noted here. Firstly, Krishnamurthy’s article never defines what such costs are, leaving us to make assumptions about what those supposedly unfair expenditures might be, and secondly, seems to limit this to mandatory vaccines but not mandatory exercise, mandatory dietary restrictions, etc.
As I noted earlier issues of poor health, like obesity, weigh greatly on impact, but this is never addressed. Again, the implication is that the vaccine is a silver bullet despite the initial assertion that it is in fact poorer than advertised. This leads one to wonder which it is, a saving grace that should be embraced by all or a failing palliative. Like most advocates of vaccine mandates Krishnamurthy seems to want it both ways.
Ultimately, Krishnamurthy’s argument exaggerates the dangers of his hypothetical man’s choice to not be injected and entirely ignores the potential harm to this individual, both in the context of medical health and civil liberties. The action being asked for here is simply that individuals be stripped of their own bodily ownership and denied the rational choice derived from cost versus risk assessment to mitigate the potential illness of strangers. As with all collectivism the outcome is one in which individuals are sacrificed for a perceived “greater good”, that in order to mitigate the impact of a natural phenomenon we should mandate a risk and tolerate human induced harm. The message is increasingly clear, COVID deaths are not acceptable, but deaths and injuries caused by COVID combative medical procedures are not only acceptable, but desirable if the agenda of universal inoculation is achieved.
The current debate is no small issue of minor medical cooperation amongst a group, but is potentially a final step toward a world in which the state, and those who embrace majoritarianism, may demand the health and even life of their neighbors without regard for individual medical conditions, socio-economic needs, or issues of belief or conscience.
As Libertarians, those who value liberty and the individual, we must be vigilant in our assertion that it is not the responsibility of one person to risk injury or hardship because a larger group of people can or might find ease in such impositions. Each and every one of us is responsible only for our own health and those in our care, and it is not incumbent upon our neighbors to risk harm or loss of basic rights to ease the responsibility of personal health and self-care.
Deaths in children and young people in England following Sars-cov-2 infection during the First pandemic year: A national study using linked MANDATORY child death reporting data. Home. (2021, July 7). https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-689684/v1
The paradox at the heart of the vaccine mandate debate. (n.d.). https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/the-paradox-at-the-heart-of-the-vaccine-mandate-debate/ar-AANZz0V?rt=0&ocid=Win10NewsApp&referrerID=InAppShare.
Study to describe the SAFETY, TOLERABILITY, immunogenicity, and efficacy of RNA vaccine candidates Against COVID-19 in healthy individuals – full text view. Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov. (2021, August 26). https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04368728?term=NCT04368728&draw=2&rank=1.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 2). Selected adverse events reported AFTER COVID-19 Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira Aug 30 2021Reviewed by Dan Hutchins. (2021, September 1). Does sars-cov-2 natural infection immunity better protect against the Delta variant than vaccination? News. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210830/Does-SARS-CoV-2-natural-infection-immunity-better-protect-against-the-Delta-variant-than-vaccination.aspx
Wamsley, L. (2021, July 30). Vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the delta VARIANT, CDC Says. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/07/30/1022867219/cdc-study-provincetown-delta-vaccinated-breakthrough-mask-guidance