A conservative Twitter pal notes that back in 2015, before the conservative movement lost its mind, conservative writer Ben Domenech, writing for the really conservative Federalist, called it “insane” that vaccine mandates would stir any controversy:
Fundamentally, the protection against life-threatening plague is one of the original reasons government exists. We’ve had mandatory vaccines for schoolchildren in America since before the Emancipation Proclamation. The Supreme Court has upheld that practice as constitutional for over a century, and only the political fringes believe there ought to be a debate about such matters. This is one of the few areas where government necessarily exercises power [Ben Domenech, “The Insane Vaccine Debate,” Reason, 2015.02.03].
Domenech expressed sympathy for parents who wanted to delay shots for their kids but not for people who wanted to avoid vaccination without consequences:
It’s the failure to deal with those consequences that frustrates me about this debate. If you choose to not vaccinate your children, that is your choice. In the absence of an immediate threat, such as a life-threatening plague or outbreak, the state doesn’t have a compelling reason to administer that vaccination by force or to infringe on your rights. But that doesn’t mean there are no tradeoffs for such a decision. If you choose not to vaccinate, private and public institutions should be able to discriminate on that basis. Disneyland should be able to require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, and so should public schools. You shouldn’t be compelled to vaccinate your child, but neither should the rest of us be compelled to pretend like you did [Domenech, 2015.02.03].
Domenech cited libertarian science writer Ronald Bailey, who expressed this very libertarian argument for vaccine mandates in a 2014 debate:
Vaccines are like fences. Fences keep your neighbor’s livestock out of your pastures and yours out of his. Similarly, vaccines separate people’s microbes. Anti-vaccination folks are taking advantage of the fact that most people around them have chosen differently, thus acting as a firewall protecting them from disease. But if enough people refuse, that firewall comes down, and innocent people get hurt.
Oliver Wendell Holmes articulated a good libertarian principle when he said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
…Some people object to applying Holmes’ aphorism by arguing that aggression can only occur when someone intends to hit someone else; microbes just happen. However, being intentionally unvaccinated against highly contagious airborne diseases is, to extend the metaphor, like walking down a street randomly swinging your fists without warning. You may not hit an innocent bystander, but you’ve substantially increased the chances. Those harmed by the irresponsibility of the unvaccinated are not being accorded the inherent equal dignity and rights every individual possesses. The autonomy of the unvaccinated is trumping the autonomy of those they put at risk.
As central to libertarian thinking as the non-aggression principle is, there are other tenets that also inform the philosophy. One such is the harm principle, as outlined by John Stuart Mill. In On Liberty, Mill argued that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Vaccination clearly prevents harm to others [Ronald Bailey, “Refusing Vaccination Puts Others at Risk,” Reason, April 2014].
Libertarians advocate maximum freedom, not absolute freedom. Maximum freedom results from imposing minimal restrictions on individuals to prevent harm to others. Vaccines are minimal restrictions that maximize freedom: they stop individuals from conducting their normal business for maybe twenty minutes and then allow everyone to go about all of their regular business with far less fear of infection, hospitalization, and death, all of which egregiously restrict freedom.
Even Kristi Noem used to believe mandatory vaccines were a good idea:
Gov. Kristi Noem says she opposes a bill eliminating the vaccination requirement for students.
“Vaccinations have literally saved millions of lives over the years. That is not something that I can support,” she said during her weekly press conference [Lisa Kaczke, “Gov. Kristi Noem Opposes Bill to Drop Vaccination Requirements for Students,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2020.02.21].
Ah, the good old days, when conservatives had a sane, practical commitment to protecting our freedom from real threats, like disease and death.