Life, liberty, and the right to infect others with measles: Rand Paul on vaccination

Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to merge his medical training and libertarian philosophy last week. It was tough. (John Locher/AP)

By Jeffrey P. Baker, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Duke University

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky confirmed his membership in the “doctors who shouldn’t have gone into politics” club with his comments last week supporting the right of parents who don’t want their kids to be immunized. While acknowledging vaccines to be “one of the greatest medical breakthroughs that we have,” Paul asserted that they should be voluntary. He talked of “walking, talking, normal kids” who had been left with “profound mental disorders” after getting several vaccines at once, and admitted that he had used an alternative schedule for his own children.

There is a lot of misinformation to unpack here. Yes, babies get more vaccines than they used to, but the vaccines themselves are far more purified. There is no support for the widely held belief that vaccines cause autism.  At the end of the day, however, I suspect that many parents will sympathize with Paul’s assertion that “the state doesn’t own your children; parents own their children.”

It is a message that appeals not just to libertarians but to the broader principles of consumer choice and individual freedom.  Paul professes he can’t see what the fuss is about. But vaccines don’t fit with the libertarian model, and the history of measles—including the outbreak now spreading across the country from Disneyland—offers the perfect example why.


Jeffrey Baker, MD, PhD, is the director of the Program in the History of Medicine at the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and the History of Medicine. He is also a Professor of Pediatrics and an Associate Clinical Professor of History.

One thought on “Life, liberty, and the right to infect others with measles: Rand Paul on vaccination

  1. Yes, I think parents should choose whether they want their children vaccinated OR NOT. Anyway, if the vaccines are usefull, vaccinated people shouldn’t be afraid of none-vaccinated ones, right? I guess it is like antibiotics : most of them are good and usefull, but the bad thing is to use them too massivelly… some antibiotics are less effective today because we over used them in the past… nature adapts it self… and humans are part of the nature, we must not forget that.


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