As I've previously written, an uncomfortably large outbreak of measles in the United States has once again brought the debate over vaccinations into the news. The majority of the cases of measles in this outbreak are in people who chose (or whose parents chose for them) not to be vaccinated against the disease. While the measles vaccine protects roughly 90 percent of people it is administered to against the disease, the measles virus itself is incredibly contagious and infects roughly 90 percent of non-immunized people who are exposed to it.
New Jersey governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie sparked controversy today after saying that he believes there should be some kind of "balance" in regards to requiring parents to vaccinate their children. While Christie's own children have been vaccinated, he initially tread carefully when asked if he believed every child should be vaccinated.
From The New York Times:
But he added: “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. 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.”
Mr. Christie said that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
Twitter was not happy with Christie's waffling on the issue:
So Chris Christie is going to run as as the sensible Establishment candidate -- but pander on vaccines?— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) February 2, 2015
You know what's a balanced approach to vaccination? Getting your kids vaccinated. All the shots.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 2, 2015
Disappointing that Gov. Christie, so well known for real talk, hedges on vaccines. #lame— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 2, 2015
"If you are able to vaccinate, you should. Bottom line, full stop." What @GovChristie should have said.— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) February 2, 2015
Conversely, President Obama, reversing from his 2008 statements that vaccines should be further studied for a possible connection with autism, said bluntly in an interview with NBC last night that Americans should "get your kids vaccinated" to protect them from deadly diseases. While I don't agree with the president on much, I'm with him on this one. Vaccinations are the only way to effectively protect society from deadly diseases.
While Gov. Christie eventually clarified his statements, saying that he believes that children should definitely be vaccinated against the measles and other deadly illnesses, this was still a bizarre misstep on a relatively softball question. Vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people who are not otherwise immunocompromised or allergic to components in the vaccines themselves (eggs, commonly). While herd immunity generally would protect this small percentage of people, herd immunity doesn't exist unless people actually become immune to the illnesses due to vaccinations. This rhetoric is dangerous for an elected official to spout, period.