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Srdjan Kamenko


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When it comes to vaccine intervention for disease control, should personal liberty go before the benefit to society?

This question is extremely important when one considers current news on the Human Papillomavirus vaccine. The main vaccine, Gardasil, has been widely used on women ages 9-26 since its introduction in 2006. The vaccine first made waves in 2007 when Texas governor Rick Perry issued an executive order to mandate the vaccine for all young women in Texas. Even though it was met with much opposition and ultimately failed, the question still remained: should we have a mandatory HPV vaccine for all women? The two sides of the argument clash, each bringing significant evidence to bear on the issue. Mathematical models indicate that with a vaccine as effective as this one (about 100%), mandating the vaccine will stamp out the virus types targeted by the vaccine. HPV is the most common STI with 45% of college age women currently infected. Freeing society of such a dangerous virus, the number one cause of cervical cancer, is a highlight of the pro-mandate argument. The opposition suggests that personal liberty is at stake, and that parents should have the choice to vaccinate their children if they believe the vaccine is worth it for them. What do you think? Is it reasonable to limit personal liberty for the good of the community in the face of a spreading killer virus?


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  • Mar 6 2012: :) Well, it's really quite simple.
    We never know what goes into a vaccine.
    If you research it, you'll find that the controversy of the issue stretches towards some outrageous claims, such as the fact that some of the main ingredients in many vaccines cause sterility, autism, etc.
    Whether or not these claims are true, it should be kept in mind that your everyday citizen isn't about to take a BA in chemistry, find access to a lab, figure out exactly what the vaccine is made of, and then take a decision. If a person firmly believes that vaccines can be worse than the actual disease, that person should definitely have the liberty to decline.
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      Mar 7 2012: But what if a person's individual decision to avoid vaccination hurts the community as a whole? Most economic models are based on the idea that when each individual does what they selfishly think is best, society as a whole is helped and profits maximized. However, sometimes individual selfish action can lead to devastating results. This is sometimes broadly described as the "tragedy of the commons." When people opt-out of vaccinations, they not only put themselves at risk but also the people around them.

      Additional Info:
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      Mar 7 2012: Also, we do know what is going into the Gardasil vaccine:

      edit: more direct link: http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/g/gardasil/gardasil_pi.pdf
      • Mar 7 2012: I do see your point 100%.
        I guess that the problem is that these people that refuse vaccines have no trust in the government or the associations that wish to make it mandatory.
        "The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen."
        I took this quote from the wikipedia link you offered.
        I think that this "tragedy of the commons" also applies to multi-billion corporations who deplete the world of resources such as oil, water, forests, etc etc etc. Maybe if the government did a better job at proving their allegiance to the community rather than the corporations and economic pig-heads that are benefiting financially from things such as pharmaceuticals and vaccines, those people would trust that the vaccines posed no real threat.
        Again, I'm no expert on the matter of vaccines, and I'm not saying that these vaccines necessarily are dangerous. I really wouldn't know. But a lot of people seem to be convinced that they are, and it wouldn't be ethical to force them into something they perceive as dangerous to their and their children's well-being. I don't see why the solution would be to make laws that everyone should be vaccinated. Why shouldn't the solution be that the government stops serving an elite portion of the population? Maybe then no one would opt out of such things.
        I'm sure that there are many things one can say to negate whatever is written in the links above. But regardless, if a portion of the population believes that this is what's going on, a portion big enough to affect the health of the entire community... there must be some sort of basis for the claims, don't you think?
      • Mar 8 2012: Hehe, surely it doesn't make it true, I didn't suggest that it did. I merely suggested that they're not going to think such a thing for absolutely no reason, there must be some sort of base upon which they made assumptions.
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          Mar 8 2012: While opting out of vaccines is a good example of the tragedy of the commons, it is an even better example of a positive externality and the free rider problem. In economics jargon, an externality is a cost (not monetary) or benefit that an individual experiences as a result of a purchase they did not take part in. In the case of vaccines, even if you choose not to get vaccinated for an infectious disease, you still receive a benefit every time someone else pays for the vaccine.
          Similarly, a "free rider" in economics is someone who consumes a resource without paying for it. In the case of vaccines, if you chose not to get vaccinated, you still get to consume the health benefit provided by the vaccine.
          I don't believe in an all powerful all controlling government. However, I believe that education is really important in order to quell some vaccine related fears. While this isn't necessarily true with HPV, there are people with compromised immune systems that are RELYING on a large number of people being vaccinated for diseases such as the flu, etc. so that they can avoid at worse a deadly infection and at best an expensive hospital visit. If we let people opt out based on conspiracy theories or even the basic human fear of the unknown, someone else's life could be jeopardy.

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