Commentary: This isn’t the first time Christie pandered to the anti-vaxxers

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Does everything have to be about politics these days?

If you somehow missed the news, Gov. Chris Christie, during his “totally unrelated to a run for the White House” trip to London, waded into the silly debate about vaccines by suggesting parents should have the choice whether to vaccinate their children.

“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, before the straight-talking governor waffled towards the “anti-vaxxer” crowd and 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.”

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So I guess the Tea Party’s new motto is “Don’t tread on my right to let my kids die.” Christie did try to backtrack his comments back a tiny bit, noting that different states require different degrees of vaccinations and that’s the “balance” he was referring to. But that still seems like a hollow response from a pandering politician trying to play to the nuttiest of nut jobs.

Call me crazy, but if Christie thought vaccines were a good idea, he’d be saying something akin to, “You’re an idiot if you don’t get your kids vaccinated.” I guess that brand of straight-talk is reserved for teachers and public workers.

I was expecting the Christie we saw in October. You know, the one whose idea of “balance” and government power was forcing Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox into a quarantine to protect “the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey.”

“I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system,” Christie said then. “This is government’s job. If anything else, the government’s job is to protect safety and health of our citizens.” It was a calculated, political move from a candidate who constantly feels the need to tell us how uncalculating his really is.

To be fair, 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to court both sides of the vaccine debate. Obama is now unequivocally in favor of vaccinations.

Nurse Hickox blasted Christie’s vaccine comments, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes it’s just another example of the governor making extremely ill-informed medical statements.

“We heard it a lot during the Ebola discussion and now it seems to have happened again, making these statements about vaccines and sort of balancing parental choice,” Hickox said.

The science is pretty irrefutable. There is no known link between vaccinations and autism. The doctor who published the laughable study linking autism and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine had his medical license revoked by British authorities and isn’t allowed to practice medicine.

In the United States, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states that don’t allow religious exemptions for immunizations (New Jersey does, and 9,000 kids took advantage of it last year. Guess which states happen to have the lowest rate of measles? 

Despite all this, the anti-vaxxer movement still lives on, thanks to irresponsible politicians and public figures like Christie who are simply looking for votes. Let’s not forget Christie wrote a letter back in 2009 endorsing an anti-vaxxer group’s conspiracy theory: 

“I have met with families affected by autism from across the state and have been struck by their incredible grace and courage. Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”

He also opposed mandatory vaccinations, telling radio host Don Imus he struggled with then-Gov. Corzine’s flu shot mandate, calling it “a real tough choice between protecting public health with vaccinations,” and the problems parents suspect have caused by vaccines.

“We need to look at all the different things affecting autism in New Jersey because we have the highest rate in the country, not just the environmental concerns but vaccinations,” Christie said. “Parents of children with autism need to be heard, they need a seat at the table to be talking about these issues.”

Let me be as clear as I can – the pandering opinion of vaccinations as a “choice” Christie and other Republicans seem to be offering is a public safety hazard, just like denying man-made climate change.

I just wish there were some sort-of vaccine to protect susceptible minds from the scourge of anti-science rhetoric, particularly from those who know better.


Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe



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