Asked Monday about how best to handle the growing measles outbreak in the United States, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) started off on the right foot. "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,” he told reporters in London, where he's on a three-day
presidential trip trade mission. Then things got dicey. “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.”
Um, not good.
The debate over how harmful (or not) vaccinating children can be is entirely settled. Jenny McCarthy aside, scientific studies -- such as this one by the Institute of Medicine -- make quite clear that no serious links exist between vaccinating your kids and things such as autism.
President Obama, when asked a similar question about measles vaccinations on Sunday, said: “I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable."
That's the right answer, politically speaking. Acknowledge that, sure, people have some concerns but quickly make a direct appeal to science and data suggesting those concerns are, well, off base. What Christie did in his statement is make it sound like a jump ball: On the one hand, some people say vaccinating children is the right and smart thing to do; on the other, people do have worries and can do what they want with their kids.
What (I think) Christie was trying to do was be aware that people don't, generally, like being told what to do with their children. So, given that, take a "we-did-it-but-that-doesn't-mean-you-have-to" approach -- personal freedom, personal responsibility and all that.
Christie was also probably wary of making a blanket statement on vaccines for fear of overstepping what he knew on the subject and getting called out on it. Hence, this line: "Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
The problem for Christie is that he's running for president. (No, he hasn't announced yet, but you know the deal.) And when you are running to be the leader of the country, you can't get away with saying things like this. Vaccinating your kids is the right thing to do. That's a view held by the vast majority of the public and, more important, by an even larger majority of health-care professionals. Painting it as anything short of a clear mandate to get vaccinations makes him look less than ready for the job.
This is a flub, plain and simple. Christie is just lucky he made it in February 2015 -- and on the day after one of the best Super Bowls ever.
Update, 11:20 am. Christie has issued a statement clarifying his comments -- and the full context of his statement. "To be clear: The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated," said Christie spokeswoman Lauren Fritts. "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."