Media Attacks Christie for Echoing White House on Vaccination

Chris Christie
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The media pilloried Governor Christie Monday for his response to a question about vaccination. However, there was no outcry when the White House spokesman gave the same answer during his public briefing last Friday.

Monday morning Governor Chris Christie was asked about his position on vaccination while visiting a company that manufactures vaccines in England. Here is the exchange:

Q: Governor you’re here. This company makes vaccines. There’s a debate going on right now in the United States, the measles outbreak that’s been caused in part by people not vaccinating their kids. Do you think Americans should vaccinate their kids? Is the measles vaccine safe?

Gov. Christie: 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. And that’s what we do. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice as well so that’s the balance that government has to decide. But I can just tell people from our perspective, Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think it’s an important part of protecting their health and the public health.

Q: But you’re leaving people the option of not getting vaccinated and that potentially presents a great public risk.

Gov. Christie: Michael, what I said was there has to be 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. So that’s what I mean by that so I’m not misunderstood.

Question: Do you think some vaccines are dangerous?

Gov. Christie: I didn’t say that. I said different disease types can be more lethal so that the concern would be measuring whatever the perceived danger is by vaccine and we’ve had plenty of that over a period of time versus what the risk to public health is and you have to have that balance and that’s exactly what I mean by what I said.

It’s not clear what Christie had in mind when saying not every disease is “as great a public health threat as others.” He may have been referring to Hep. A vaccine which is available but not required in New Jersey and many other states. Doctors may still recommend non-mandatory vaccines but parents have the option of saying no and they are not required to attend school.

In any case, Christie’s office clarified later this morning that he was definitely not talking about measles, saying, “The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.” New Jersey requires extensive vaccination for school children, including the standard MMR vaccination for measles.

The outlines of Christie’s response–that he has had his kids vaccinated but that parents have to have some say (at least in some circumstances)–doesn’t sound very different from what White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last Friday. Here’s Earnest explaining the president’s position (via @OKnox) in response to a question prompted by the measles outbreak [emphasis added]:

Q: And obviously it has revived the debate over vaccines.  Does the President, does the White House have a message about that and who will be getting vaccinated?

MR. 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.

Q: That people should get vaccinated?

MR. 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.

Earnest split the difference in the same way Christie did, saying that vaccination is a good idea and also that parents should play some role in the decision. In fact, his statement was so on-the-fence that he was questioned about it in a follow up:

Q: Just to put a finer point on the measles vaccine issue.  When you say that it’s the parents — you prefaced your comments by saying that parents would have that decision.  Are you supporting those who not for religious reasons, but because they have a special reason for it which may be based upon faulty science, are holding their kids back from getting vaccines?  Does the President support that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President believes that everybody should be listening to our public health professionals.  Our public health professionals are guided by the science.  They’re the ones who are steeped in this knowledge, they’ve reviewed the studies, and then can offer the best advice to Americans about how they can best protect themselves and their kids from diseases like measles.

So I guess my point is, I’m not going to stand up here and dispense medical advice, but I am going to suggest that the President’s view is that people should evaluate this for themselves with a bias toward good science and toward the advice of our public health professionals who are trained to offer us exactly this kind of advice.

That’s a stronger statement but still the call to “evaluate this” is an invitation to parents to make a decision. Indeed, the media reported last week that Earnest had “urged parents” to heed public health officials. Governor Christie appears to have been urging the same thing by noting that he and his wife have had their children vaccinated.