The good news for New Jersey Chris Christie is that voters have quickly forgotten about his failed effort to properly sit on a chair at a recent radio interview. Unfortunately, for Governor Christie, the reason voters will no longer be focusing on his clumsy fall is because of his bizarre comments about child vaccinations. By stating that “[vaccinations are an] important part of making sure we protect . . . public health, but 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 demonstrated that he is unwilling to take a simple stand in support of basic public health. The governor’s comments are additionally notable because a few months ago, he seemed so concerned about Ebola. One would expect that a concern like that would extend to diseases like measles that cause much more harm in the U.S, but it seems that for Mr. Christie, once again all issues, including public health ones, are seen through the lens of politics.
Mr. Christie is very likely running for president; and his comments about vaccinations reflect his willingness to say whatever he thinks is needed to win his party’s nomination. Mr. Christie’s equivocation is either extremely poor judgment or evidence that the Republican Party base is moving towards this extreme position, the public health equivalent of creationism. In either case, Mr. Christie’s comments are particularly striking because he is supposed to be a candidate from the moderate, electable branch of the Republican Party. If this is what the moderates are saying, we can only imagine what more conservative candidates, such as Mike Huckabee or Bobby Jindal, will say when asked about vaccinations.
As the 2016 election approaches, it is possible that vaccinating children, a basic public health activity from which we all benefit, will be the new front of what some have called the Republican war on science. Given Mr’s Christie’s dubious reasoning, it is apparent that the Republican war on science is real, and even more apparent that, at least within the Republican Party, science is losing.
Update 5:27 p.m.: In a statement, Governor Christie’s office, clarified his earlier, and controversial comment:”The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”
Lincoln Mitchell is national political correspondent at the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @lincolnmitchell.