Friday, April 8, 2011

Two anti-vacc bills loom in Maine

Activists who cling to the belief that vaccines cause autism have persuaded Maine politicians to introduce two anti-vacc bills in Augusta.

Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford is sponsoring L.D. 694, which requires doctors to tell parents what's in vaccines and to inform them they can opt out for philosophical or religious reasons.

The intention is to discourage vaccinations by playing off the fear that vaccines contain, among other things, trace amounts of aluminum and a form of formaldehyde. The ingredients are not kept secret now, and the anti-vacc activists do not understand that substances are not worth worrying about when they fall below toxicity levels.

The second bill, L.D. 941 is sponsored by Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley and would end the vaccination requirements to enroll in Maine public schools. This is being presented in terms of personal liberty, but it's really another attempt to discourage vaccinations.

As an outspoken libertarian, I think an adult should be able to buy clove cigarettes and drink four loco in a restaurant lit by incandescent light bulbs while they gamble and marry someone of the same gender. There is something very different about vaccines.

For starters, the government is not snatching children and jabbing needles into their arms. Instead, it is currently requring vaccinations as a requirement to get into a public school. Parents who are terrified of vaccines can seek other forms of education, or they can use a simple loophole and declare philosophical or religious opposition to vaccines and still enroll their child in public schools.

This has allowed Maine vaccination rates to fall to 80 percent.

Libertarians like me are aware of something called externalities - where bystanders are impacted by a decision I make. There is not a libertarian push to legalize drunk driving, and one reason is that it endangers other people. That is a serious negative externality.

I see the vaccination requirement in the same light. Allowing unvaccinated children into the public school encourages the spread of disease. This is not a libertarian stance - its an anti-vacc stance borrowing the rhetoric of libertarianism to promote bad science.

The anti-vacc crowd is not a collection of gifted experts who know something the medical community does not, nor are they the last bulwark against a vast pharmaceutical conspiracy. They are a collection of hysterical social activists with a crude understanding of what's going on, and their ignorance has inspired them to action. They do not know what they're talking about, and as a result the actions they suggest endangers the public.


  1. Granted there are some pointless vaccines. I'd like to see the chicken pox vaccine go away.

    Perhaps a re-vamping of the vaccination requirements to enroll should be done, I'm sure there are some that could go or some that should be added.

  2. All of this is being argued within the assumption that there should be public, tax-supported (i.e., paid for by theft) schools to begin with, when of course, they should be abolished.

    There is not a libertarian push to legalize drunk driving

    I don't know about a "push", but there are libertarian advocates of doing away with "drunk" driving laws (See Legalize Drunk Driving, for one example).

  3. I wouldn't call taxes theft.

    Extortion is a more apt descriptor.

  4. Nate-Congress, there is nothing wrong with our current vaccine schedule.

    Nikk, I am not an anarcho-capitalist, so I don't think "of course" public education should be abolished. As Milton Friedman said, there is a big difference between having the government garuntee all children can receive education, and having the government run it. The governments top-down education system in America has been a failure, but making sure all children can go to school provides tremendous public goods.

    As an economics-savvy libertarian, I have to keep in mind the three types of market failures that create additional roles for government: Asymmetrical Information, Public Goods and Externalities. Externalities are why I tolerate government forcing children who enroll in school to be vaccinated, and the schools themselves provide a public good - although that good can be achieved through privatized schools.

    Just because the government abuses the tax system doesn't mean that all taxes are abusive.

  5. As for drunk driving, you're correct in that you provided a libertarian arguing for legalizing it - and for less federal control over the laws - but from the first paragraph you can see this came out 11 years ago, and I don't see much push for this cause.

    By the same token, I'm sure I could find a lefty who wants to nationalize the video game industry, but I would have to reference my recent "Idiot Hunting" post in either case.

  6. I am not in favor of drunk driving laws. Some people handle being drunk differently. Some can drive perfectly well at or beyond whatever arbitrary standard is the legal limit of the day. A professional driver, for example, could probably be on the verge of alcohol poisoning and still drive better than a sober 80-year old.

    I believe the laws should be rewritten to deal simply with reckless driving. It's the action that makes the crime, not the state of mind.

  7. Your externalities are only partially illustrated in your ultimate conclusions. Allowing children with contagious transmittable illness causes the spread of disease in public schools is the total of all externalities. The unvaccinated are statistically the minority of those cases. In some endemics, case zero may be unvaccinated, but most likely is vaccinated.
    Simple example: 90% of the population receives a vaccine that is between 85-90% effective. Current estimates put the percent of the population who choose to not vaccinate at 2-3%. So here is the final breakdown
    77% of population is immune due to vaccines
    13% believe that they are immune due to vaccines, which is a false belief
    7% of the population is not vaccinated for other reasons
    3% of the population is not vaccinated by choice

    So, in this example, bystanders will be adversely impacted by externalities made by faulty decisions of 20% of the population. So out of 100 cases, 57 will be in the vaccinated population, 30 will be in the other reasons category, and 13 will be in the by choice population.
    The recurring breakouts of whooping cough (illustrated in CDC studies and statistics) every three to four years is a prime example of the statistics of the example I have described.


  8. Thank you Chuck, that is a great breakdown of the mathematics. I did not factor in vaccine effectiveness and how much bigger this negative externality really is.

    While I'm on the subject, being vaccinated lends a positive externality as the patient is much less likely to be a carrier.

  9. There are also biological negative externalities that epidemiologists are still debating.
    1) The current pertussis vaccine is causing most of the prevalent strains in the environment to mutate, so the vaccine most likely will be in a constant state of catch up.
    2) The current chicken pox vaccine is weakening the general public’s overall natural immunity to varicella and increasing the number and severity of shingles cases in younger populations. Shingles also has many more long term physical complications and higher mortality than chicken pox.


  10. I don't see #1 as an externality at all, only a complication for the vaccine administration. The only one who has any difficulty is the vaccine manufacturer.

    For number two, if that's true than that's a side effect imposed on the person getting the vaccine - not an externality, but an interesting point. It really depends on the relative rates of incidents to see if its worth avoiding one if it increases problems with the other.

  11. I didn’t explain this well enough to illustrate the externalities that I have read about on some epidemiology blog sites and witnessed myself.
    Here is the jist of the problem:
    Anyone who contracted chicken pox has a natural immunity to varicella. Epidemiologists have been debating that if individuals with natural immunity are not exposed to weaker strains of varicella, their immune response when exposed to a weaker strain will no longer protect them. Widespread use of the chicken pox vaccine is a relatively new situation that that has not been studied long term. The chicken pox vaccine is completely eliminating any natural exposure. The vaccine eliminates that routine expose at the expense of causing older individuals to contract a much more serious and lethal disease at much earlier ages then should have happened if the vaccine was not used. The externalities of limiting some minor discomfort and a very few deaths in the young is more long term pain, suffering, physical deformities , lifelong complications, and potentially death in a larger population of older individuals.
    The other problem is that these older people with shingles will get even with the vaccinated population. The reactivated varicella most likely is not a strain contained in the vaccine and will cause vaccinated children to contract chicken pox. This is why the CDC had to recommend a booster within a few years after the chicken pox vaccine is first administered. Unlike the propaganda that the CDC tends to put out, the case of chicken pox that the child contracts is just as bad as the case the adult had a younger age. I have lived through this exact scenario and observed it several times over the course of a few years in many homes with vaccinated children catching chicken pox from their suffering parents who have shingles in their mid to late forties. The CDC currently recommends that only individuals 60 or older receive a vaccine for shingles. Historically that would have been the proper time to administer. The vaccine has changed the environment and that is no longer a correct assumption. The externalities of the chicken pox vaccine far exceed any potential benefit to the society as a whole.