Increasingly expansive and coercive vaccine mandates are placing the supposed collective good of society above the right of patients or their parents to give or withhold informed consent, writes Jane M. Orient, M.D., in a guest editorial in the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.
Public health authorities constantly assert that “vaccines are safe and effective,” and that “vaccine hesitancy” is a major global public health threat.
However, no medical intervention is either 100 percent safe or 100 percent effective. Some complications may be “very rare,” but patients may be unwilling to take the risk of death or devastating lifelong disability for a benefit they perceive to be small, Dr. Orient writes.
Moreover, the risk of harm may be much greater than reported. One study suggested that only 1 percent of serious reactions may be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), the rapid safety-signal detection system for rare adverse events from vaccines. Ten years later, we have no other information about the completeness of reporting.
Adult vaccines are likely to be more widely mandated soon, especially in view of outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and mumps in fully vaccinated adults, whose vaccine-induced immunity apparently waned. AAPS members regularly complain to us about influenza vaccine requirements to work in hospitals or other health facilities. One physician withdrew an application for consulting privileges because of a demand to prove immunity or recent vaccination against some 15 different diseases.
The dogma is that “vaccines are safe and effective,” and it is our duty to protect the “herd,” especially vulnerable, immunosuppressed children, against vaccine-preventable diseases. Raising any question about this is almost certain to trigger vitriolic accusations of being a danger to the community as an “anti-science anti-vaxxer.” Nevertheless, serious questions need to be explored with an open, critical mind.
There is the philosophical issue of how much risk a person can be compelled to take, even to save the life of another. Tort law creates no “duty to rescue.” Should we override a religious objection or reluctance to take a risk because an unvaccinated child might get measles and might expose a child who can’t be vaccinated if there is a measles outbreak? Once we place the collective over individual rights, where do we draw a line?
A 1905 case that upheld a smallpox vaccination mandate, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, is the precedent used to support all vaccine mandates. The Justices’ cautions about the abuse of police powers have been ignored, while judicial interpretations have broadened to include the implied power to prevent epidemics, not simply to respond to existing ones.
There is an “epidemic of doubt” and an “epidemic of distrust,” which are only worsened by labeling all skeptics as “anti-vaxx” and “anti-science.” Dr. Orient points to serious, otherwise unexplained adverse events and to problematic vaccine ingredients including fetal DNA, retroviruses, and adjuvants. The last are used to stimulate the immune system to increase vaccine effectiveness, with the potential to trigger autoimmune conditions as well.
“There are many unknowns, and no certainties,” Dr. Orient concludes. “But the physician must strive to do no harm, not even in the guise of serving the collective good.”
The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943.