It is very difficult to draw any happy conclusions from this difficult impasse. The blunt truth is that even libertarians and other defenders of small government should support the basic constitutional framework that gives public officials extensive powers to control against infection and disease by devices such as quarantine and vaccination. Apart from the forced vaccination of compromised individuals, it is difficult to carve out some enduring constitutional island of individual rights from the general principle of state control.
The weak constitutional system does not mean that nothing else should be done. Rather, it suggests that relief in this matter rests on two uncertain supports. The first is the awareness of most parents that vaccinations for their children are justified even on the narrowest grounds of individual self-interest. The bloated parental fears of adverse reactions to standard vaccines have to be effectively countered by concerted campaigns from both public and private sources. The simple truth is that in most cases, vaccinations make overwhelming sense as a way for parents to protect their children’s health.
Second, a constant pressure has to be placed on health and school officials to be sensitive to the difficult trade-offs involved in all these decisions. Thus far, the bad news is that private decisions have led people to let down their guard against communicable diseases on the naïve assumption that the diseases won’t spread. The good news, so far, is that the public response has been sensible. Let’s hope, going forward, it stays that way.