Regarding The Great Vaccination Primary of 2016, the truth is that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did not say the exact same thing the White House did, and therefore both deserve the media drubbing they are facing this week.
Unlike Christie and Paul, the White House correctly and accurately defended parental choice when it comes to vaccines and touted endless studies proving that childhood vaccinations are perfectly safe. Christie and Paul, on the other hand, openly pandered to a dangerous bunch known as the anti-vaccination (anti-vaxx) crowd.
First the facts.
Anti-vaxxers are mostly a group of narcissistic left-wingers who see themselves as trendsetters through a lifestyle choice (refusing childhood vaccinations) that risks bringing back deadly diseases defeated years ago. Based on a horribly flawed 1998 study that has since been thoroughly and completely discredited (and retracted), anti-vaxxers led the charge in blaming childhood vaccinations for autism.
Unfortunately, some well-meaning parents have been caught in the net of this madness.
What’s even more unfortunate is that despite the unqualified debunking of that study, this group remains highly organized and energized. They put us all at risk, which I’ll explain below.
With that in mind…
This is what the White House said January 30:
QUESTION: Does the President, does the White House have a message about that and who will be getting vaccinated?
WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN JOSH EARNEST: Well, the President certainly believes that these kinds of decisions are decisions that should be made by parents, because ultimately when we’re talking about vaccinations, we’re typically talking about vaccinations that are given to children. But the science on this, as our public health professionals I’m sure would be happy to tell you, the science on this is really clear.
QUESTION: That people should get vaccinated?
EARNEST: That’s certainly what the science indicates, and that’s obviously what our public health professionals recommend. And being guided by the science in matters like this is typically the right approach.
During a trip to London this week to boost his foreign policy credentials, this is what Christie said just a couple of days later:
“All I can say is that we vaccinated ours. That’s the best expression I can give you of my opinion. It’s much more important, I think, what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Pressed on whether that was leaving people the option to skip vaccinations, Christie said, “There has to be a balance and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is and all the rest. And so I didn’t say I’m leaving people the option.”
“What I’m saying is that you have to have that balance in considering parental concerns because no parent cares about anything more than they care about protecting their own child’s health and so we have to have that conversation, but that has to move and shift in my view from disease type. Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others,” he added.
In describing the “balance” more fully, Christie said it should involve measuring “whatever the perceived danger is by vaccine” versus “what the risk to public health is.”
As far as Rand Paul, he went even further than Christie in pandering to this crowd. As a physician, these comments are especially egregious:
Do I ultimately think [vaccinating your children] it is a good idea? Yeah. And so I had mine staggered over several months. I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines. I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they are a good thing, but I think the parent should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.
Personally I have no problem with giving parents a choice. One thing our government has done very well over the last 50 or so years is to eradicate a handful of terrible and deadly diseases, and done so using education, reasonable and thoughtful opt-out policies, and convenient access to vaccinations.
Government coercion hasn’t been necessary to accomplish this medical miracle, and would probably backfire anyway. Paul and Christie using this issue to make a statement about freedom from government control is a bit of red herring. It’s just not an issue — even with this White House.
Besides, immunizations are mostly a state issue. And different policies result in different outcomes. Last year, conservative Mississippi immunized an astonishing 99.7% of new kindergartners; the best in the nation. Liberal California — a hotbed of left-wing anti-vaxx lunacy that is currently fighting a measles outbreak — immunized only 92%. Mississippi only grants medical exemptions. Other states also allow religious or philosophical exemptions, which results in a lower immunization rate.
Had Paul and Christie, like the White House, restricted their respective comments to parental choice, a case could then be made for the media treating the Republicans unfairly. Unfortunately, both men took it a step further into the dangerous territory of offering credibility to those who question the safety of childhood vaccines.
The vaccination battle is not about immunizing everyone — which is why there can safely be parental choice through opt-out policies. This battle is about keeping immunization rates up over a certain number — around 90% — in order to protect what is known as herd immunity. Once immunization rates drop below a certain percentage, outbreaks can occur.
Long story short: giving any cover to the anti-vaxx crowd not only ignores facts and history, it risks dropping immunization rates into this red zone. High-profile politicians and likely presidential candidates have a special responsibility to ensure they do the opposite of fueling this madness.
Yes, Obama seemed to pander to this crowd in 2008. But thanks to anti-anti-vaxx education, a lot has changed over the last 7 years, including the President’s standing on the issue.
Yes, dim-witted left-wing celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and Robert Kennedy Jr. have treated this conspiracy seriously over the years. But those dim-wits aren’t national political figures who are probably running for president. Paul and Christie are. Which means they must be held to a much higher standard.
It’s no secret I’m no Chris Christie fan but I have nothing but admiration for Rand Paul. Regardless, I don’t think either is anti-science or anti-vaccine. What they said, though was unattractive pandering, and worse, irresponsible and dangerous to public health.
Republican voters should also question the political judgment of anyone who walks into this kind of media trap. It was just last Friday when this anti-vaxx conspiracy-mongering was the perfect punchline to any joke about bubble-headed Malibu-dwelling liberal elites.
Now it’s a GOP problem.
The media is corrupt.
If you want to be president, act accordingly.
ADDED: If you want the government to truly mandate vaccinations, keep feeding these anti-vaxx conspiracies. Once the anti-vaxx movement grows in size to where immunization rates drop to dangerous levels, the government will definitely step in. Right now it’s a state issue. Irresponsible talk like this from Paul and Christie will drop it right in the laps of the Feds.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC