Vaccinations as a presidential campaign issue?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s over in Europe burnishing his foreign policy credentials and promoting trade with New Jersey, just injected the vaccination issue into his likely 2016 presidential campaign.

He was responding to President Obama’s interview on NBC yesterday. Obama said the evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine for measles is “pretty indisputable.”

About 100 cases of measles have been reported, mostly in California, where laws give parents substantial rights in opting out of vaccines.

Responding to a question from reporters this morning, Christie broke with the presidential health advice.

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “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.”

There is, of course, no such thing as balance on the issue. You either get your kid vaccinated. Or you don’t.

Christie’s accommodation comes the same day that the Washington Post Morning Mix reprised the late author Ronald Dahl’s story of the death of his daughter from measles.

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.”

Meanwhile, University of Minnesota officials are contacting hundreds of people who may have come in contact with a student diagnosed with measles.

Update 11 a.m. – Christie’s office has distributed this statement:

“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.”

  • Moffitt

    Before the sun sets today, I expect a “clarification” on this from the Governor. If we are lucky, perhaps another lengthy press conference.

    • I rather expected him to be Christie-like and say, “just shut up and get your kid vaccinated.” But, nope.

      • BJ

        Ron Paul’s delegates didn’t help anyone win last time. Your suggested quote would have been the better response.

    • And…you called it. Well played.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    The balance is how far government goes toward forcing parents to do something. Thats a reasonable discussion to have. Christie’s fault is expecting reasonable discussion.

    • Chris

      Given the number of people not getting vaccinated, clearly the government isn’t forcing anything at all. Government force is really not part of the discussion, but an obfuscation point for politicians who don’t want to alienate crazy people who might vote for them.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Like I said…

        “Christie’s fault is expecting reasonable discussion.”

        • Chris

          Whether or not kids should get vaccinated isn’t really a reasonable discussion. Trying to dodge that fact by saying it’s really about “how far government goes toward forcing…” is political obfuscation.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            Well I tried.

          • BJ

            So what is the discussion. My take today you are more able to ‘opt out’ than 10 years ago. The last 4-5 years we have seen increases in preventable childhood disease outbreaks.

            http://www.cfr.org/interactives/GH_Vaccine_Map/#map

            Correlation vs causation – here I think not getting vaccinated is causation.

    • Tim

      Christie had no trouble forcing people to do something when it came to Ebola, though. Has he reconsidered his position since then?

    • Nick K

      The issue is clear from a legal standpoint. The Supreme Court ruled, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, in 1905 (so even a 100+ years ago vaccines were recognized as a positive thing) that states were allowed to implement compulsory vaccination laws. In Zucht v. King the Supreme Court ruled that schools may deny attendance to unvaccinated children.
      Interesting note, apparently the Jacobson ruling spawned the creation of the Anti-Vaccination League. I guess it really is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Al

    In public health, we only really have a mandate to infringe on people’s right to choice when their choice directly threatens another person. But it’s hard for us to show that direct line of harm from an unimmunized kid with measles to someone who is vulnerable, because a lot of the public seemingly just doesn’t buy it, regardless of data. So we keep pushing the carrot, when I wonder if the stick might be our best option.

    • jon

      I recall a documentary where people were dragged from their homes (I think in NYC) to be vaccinated for small pox(? maybe it was polio, or tuberculosis?).

      Those who were found to be infected with the disease in question were sent to the hospital, against their will in many cases…

      I found an article on it:
      http://www.npr.org/2011/04/05/135121451/how-the-pox-epidemic-changed-vaccination-rules

      The stick has been used… it didn’t work to much better, 50 years later small pox was eradicated…

      Though I also recall a film from drivers ed. Something like “Blood on the highway” where they showed footage of car crashes, and the dismembered people afterwards to scare teenagers into being safe drivers… Perhaps a film crew touring some of the less fortunate places of the world where vaccines aren’t readily available, where people don’t suffer from autism, but instead can’t breath, or are largely paralyzed because of polio… or are covered in welts, or have brain swelling effecting their mental facilities, all from various diseases that we have vaccines for.

      • Tom K

        There is zero correlation between vaccination and autism. None. Frankly, including the two even in the same paragraph only lends credence to the (false) idea.

        “… touring some of the less fortunate places of the world where vaccines aren’t readily available, where people don’t suffer from autism, but instead can’t… ”

        Vaccines save lives around the world and can prevent horrible and fatal illnesses to both your children and others.

        • jon

          I did not intend to imply that there was… a causality between the two, only that the goal of the propaganda film would be to show the difference between horrible fatal diseases, and mental illness, plenty of people who fall on the autistic spectrum are fully capable of taking care of themselves…

          There is however a correlation (NOT CAUSALITY) between the two, that’s the problem. Chart the number of document cases of autism and the number of vaccinations and you’ll see both are trending upwards. You can do the same will cell phones and autism, or organic food sales and autism, or cancer and x-ray machines… basically any technology that came around the same time that medical science was able to diagnose a disease, when you plot it out on a time scale you’ll see both the diagnoses and the technology increasing at put them on two different scales and presto you have correlation!

          Cancer causes cell phone:
          http://xkcd.com/925/

          • Tom K

            Thanks – correlation is not causalty. Maybe I should have said “there are no reputable scientific studies that link the two.”

            Autism is a serious thing. Preventable diseases are serious things.

        • Jack

          Tom, you left out IMHO.

          • Tom K

            My opinion is not important. The facts and science is what is important. Saving lives is what is important.

  • Anna

    In 1957, there was not a reliable vaccine but my middle sister came down with measles and our pediatrician was very concerned about my twin sister and me. We were only 4 months old at the time. He wanted to prevent the tragedy that later happened to Dahl’s oldest daughter.

    We were vaccinated with the vaccine that was available at the time and came down with a lighter case.

    The vaccines now are effective and safe. Measles vaccination should be mandatory and the only exception should be a medical condition that prevents it.

    Just like your earlier post about why people do not believe scientific evidence when it is staring them right in the face is an indication of a much deeper problem in society—we simply don’t trust anyone, not even our personal physicians because of the junk science that is now so readily available on the Internet.

    People are more willing to believe a celebrity because of their wide exposure.

    This a really sad state of affairs and it is going to cost our society dearly in the future.

    • Jeff

      It seems like it’s the double edged sword of the information age and the internet. There’s a lot of false balance – any crackpot or someone with an agenda can state facts when they’re not.

  • John O.

    As another person tweeted last week: “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.”

    • jon

      I’m amused by the “Zero Tolerance Policy” that schools use, and when and where they apply it… I’m also intrigued by how people think “Zero Tolerance Policies” are terrible, until they support there own world view.

      Personally I want to make it hard to not vaccinate a child… if that’s your belief that vaccines are the devil, or what ever, fine… don’t vaccinate, but your beliefs aren’t there as a matter of convenience… Consider how Conscientious objectors were handled in WWII, you had additional forms to fill out, and if you did manage to explain your objections to any military service on the extra forms, you were put into a public civil service outfit… if you only managed to explain why you can’t kill any one you were put in to the military in a support role, well away from the front lines…
      Making it hard to opt out of vaccinations will encourage more people to get them for their children (it already does from the data I’ve seen between states where the laws are different) so lets make it hard, and if you have an objection go through the paper work…

      Herd immunity for the measles kicks in around 95% so if 5% need to opt out for medical reasons, or religious beliefs fine. And maybe that is where the school cuts off, they’ve hit their 5% level, and they can’t accept any more un-vaccinated children to register, medical exceptions kids will bump non-medical exceptions… you want a spot for your child to be guaranteed in a public school, get them vaccinated… otherwise they can be kicked out at any time, and asked to stay home at any time.

  • Gary F
  • MrE85

    Had Christie just said “…with a disease like measles, there is no question kids should be vaccinated” in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now, and he wouldn’t be in damage-control mode. There may be times when discussions on the role and scope of government is a good idea, but clearly this isn’t one of them.

  • davehoug

    No vaccinations, no coming to a crowded school. You are then required to home school your child.

    • Jack

      After my experience with the school system, home schooling vaccinated or not might be a good choice for young parents.

  • TeeCee656

    The CDC has both the data and the science to validate the efficacy of vaccinations and immunizations. The polio vaccines (Saulk and Sabin) virtually eliminated the disease in one generation. The same for small pox. This is a PUBLIC health issue, not an individual one. For a politician to opine about this issue is meaningless. The American Academy of Pediatrics has scientifically based guidelines published on their website. To ignore them, places both a child’s life and the general public in peril. This is even more important when it is considered with the illegal immigration issue. Pertussis (whooping cough) is almost an epidemic in SoCal, and there was a recent outbreak of measles stemming from Disneyland visits. I trust the pediatricians far more than the politicians.