An Open Letter to Rand Paul

Dear Rand Paul:

America has long been a land of freedom. It is our heritage. We are a people who love individualism and choice.  In fact, in general, we have so much leeway to do what we please that we hardly know what to do with ourselves. You want to name your child Apple, go for it.  You like to eat six Big Macs a day. Be my guest.  You want to have a gun in your home, you can.  You can worship the God of your choice, without repercussion or government approval.  No one in the government forces you into a particular occupation or educational path. Freedom rings loudly here.

But freedom cannot be endless. Otherwise, chaos ensues.  The freedom promised to us is not just the freedom to act the way we want. It is also the freedom to be free from harm from others.  That’s why we have laws: to protect us from each other.  You can have a gun in your home, but you cannot choose to exercise your freedom to fire it at me for no reason.  You can name your child Apple Pie if you want, but you cannot refuse to feed her or beat her. She has the right to be free from abuse.  You can defame me and call me horrible names and accuse me of terrible things, but I have the right to sue you for damages to my reputation. Your right to freedom cannot be unending, because eventually your freedom impedes upon mine.

You are right that vaccinating is an issue of freedom. Just not in the way you mean.  You see, the decision to vaccinate is not like the decision to name your child a name that they will hate as an adult. It is not the same as choosing to eat too much fat and sodium.  Why? Because the decision to shovel junk food in your mouth affects you. Just you.  If you develop diabetes or other severe health complications, I am not personally at risk.  My children are not personally at risk.

But when people choose not to vaccinate, they are invading my freedom.  My freedom to live without fear of my children contracting a horrible, devastating disease that is totally preventable.  In choosing not to vaccinate, they are putting not only their own child at risk, but their entire community as a whole. As a physician, surely you understand the concept of herd immunity.  Vaccines cannot do their job unless enough people get vaccinated.  We vaccinate to protect ourselves and each other.  Should people be free to choose not to vaccinate their children based on personal preference? Maybe. But if you make the choice to refuse vaccination for your child, then you cannot be upset when your child is kept out of school, or denied a playdate, or refused a particular job due to her immunization status.  The right to play with others sometimes means following the rules.  Otherwise, you get to sit out of the game.

If you want to have a debate on vaccines, let’s go. Let’s debate whether we would prefer our child to get mumps or pertussis. Let’s talk about whether we would prefer a child to lose a limb to meningitis or to develop encephalitis from measles.  But let us please stick to science in our debate.  No more relying on unsubstantiated and unscientific claims of the dangers of vaccines. They do not cause autism. They do not cause mental disorders.  But there are certainly vaccine preventable diseases that can leave a child utterly and completely devastated.

Vaccines are no more a matter of freedom than is inciting a riot or pulling a gun on a waitress just for the hell of it.  America may be a land of freedom and choice, but it is not a land of reckless, selfish, dangerous people doing whatever they want just because they want to do it.  You cannot commit a crime of violence to someone else and then claim that freedom let you do it. Neither can we allow people to refuse to vaccinate their child and not suffer certain consequences as a result of that decision. By making this type of statement, you are egging other people on to prove just how much freedom they think we should have.  Now we should not require restaurant workers to wash their hands after using the toilet? Do you not see that we are sliding into sheer craziness?  By encouraging individuals to recognize their “freedom” to refuse vaccines or hand washing or any other reasonable public health measure, the only thing that is going to happen is that disease will have the liberty to run rampant.

I promise you. Nobody wants that kind of freedom.

If you really want to run for president, you have to show (among many other things) responsibility, common sense, and intelligence. Here is a good place for you to start.

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