New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s outreach to the anti-vaccination crowd is one of the strangest things anyone has done during the 2016 shadow primary season. In the midst of a significant outbreak of preventable, communicable diseases among children, Christie decided to throw anti-vaxxers a bone, making President Obama look enormously sensible by comparison.
Christie is in Britain on a three-day “trade mission” and held a press conference after touring a facility in Cambridge owned by an American company called MedImmune, where he offered a bit of qualified support for childhood vaccinations. His remarks, as transcribed by CNN:
“All I can say is that we vaccinate ours. I think it’s much more important as a parent than as a public official, and that’s what we do,” he told reporters during his trip through London on Monday. He went on to say that’s “part of making sure we protect their health and public health.”
“I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice as well. So that’s a balance the government has to decide,” Christie added.
Asked whether he was advocating leaving parents the option to not vaccinate their kids, Christie said “I didn’t say I’m leaving people the option,” but that “it depends what the vaccine is, what the disease type is and all the rest.”
“And so we have to have that conversation. [It] has to move and shift to disease type. Not every vaccine is created equal. Not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others,” Christie said.
This comes in the context of a measles epidemic blamed largely on the success of anti-vaxxers in persuading parents not to get their children immunized against a disease that was essentially wiped out over a decade ago. Bottom line: measles is easily defeated with vaccinations, but nearly impossible to stop without them. The anti-vaccination movement has created enough pockets of unvaccinated children across the nation to bring the disease back.
Christie’s gaseous comments about the importance of parental choice, and the need to consider diseases and treatment plans carefully, might be excused as meaningless spitballing if America wasn’t currently dealing with a serious problem created by anti-vaccination hysteria. This is not the moment for bull sessions about the theoretical right of parents to control the treatment of their children; what’s actually happening right now is a public-health crisis in which the safety of many children stands imperiled by those who would sacrifice their own kids on the altar of celebrity-endorsed folly. There certainly are vibrant discussions to be had about the “balance” between individual conscience and the needs of society, but Christie picked just about the worst possible ground for such a discussion.
Christie’s comments make President Obama look like the soul of common sense, as virtually every single mainstream media outlet hastened to note. Good luck finding a single MSM post on Christie’s vaccination remarks that doesn’t quote Obama saying, in a Sunday interview with NBC News, “I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”
There really isn’t much of a difference between the two politicians on vaccination policy, but Obama sounds far more reasonable and less ambiguous. Christie has also given us a reason to revisit the Gardasil controversy from the 2012 Republican primary, which is ground the Republican Party really doesn’t want to retread. Serious discussions about the limits of government authority are derailed by nonsense like anti-vaccination hysteria, which has headline-grabbing real-world consequences every parent outside the anti-vaxxer fringe is worried about.
Playing footsie with this misguided movement is a good way to lose everyone else, shifting the debate over individual rights onto such unfavorable terrain that those who can speak eloquently and reasonably about such rights find themselves without an audience. Even the ardent libertarian should concede their must be some rules, and when children are packed into school environments where disease can spread like wildfire, sensible vaccination procedures should be among them.
Of course, sensible immigration procedures are essential as well, and here our mega-government has officially lost its marbles, on a distressingly bipartisan basis. Is it coincidental that measles came back, along with a number of other troubling disease outbreaks, right after President Obama ushered a tidal wave of unaccompanied, potentially un-vaccinated children across the border from South America?
The un-vaccinated domestic population is very small; according to the Centers for Disease Control, “median vaccination coverage was 94.7% for 2 doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine” among kindergarten children for the 2013-2014 school year. Cases from the current measles outbreak number in the hundreds, surging over a disturbingly short period of time – more than we should be dealing with, but a small percentage of the total student population. The anti-vaccination movement may have created pockets where these previously unknown or defeated infections can thrive, but can the rise of this movement be correlated to the return of obscure diseases as the sole important factor?
New Jersey actually has fairly strong vaccination requirements, allowing for exceptions where “administration of the vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian,” but specifically excluding the sort of “general philosophical or moral objection” peddled by the likes of Jenny McCarthy. Governor Christie should have been a strong proponent of his state’s laws and the reasoning behind them. Instead, he dropped a statement he’s going to spend the rest of the week explaining, modifying, and retreating from, eclipsing whatever else he hoped to accomplish with his visit to the U.K. That’s not the sort of candidate Republicans need in their 2016 primary. Presidential elections are not won by candidates who spend all their time playing defense.