The battle over vaccinations threatened to become partisan today, as the latest outbreak of measles that has infected more than 100 people inspired some political leaders to weigh in.
On Monday’s Today, President Obama strongly urged parents to vaccinate their kids, saying, “The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, however, begged to differ, telling reporters that while his kids are vaccinated, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance.”
“Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others,” he added.
Knee-jerk hostility to everything that President Obama says is not unusual for Republicans, but Christie’s comments may not just be about that. While anti-vaccination attitudes are associated with kale-eating, electric car–driving liberals in the public imagination, polling data actually shows that Republicans are slightly more likely to believe the discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. Rejecting scientific consensus is also an art that Republicans have perfected when it comes to climate change and evolution. But, more importantly, the right is just a more comfortable home, ideologically, for anti-vaccination arguments. Conservatives don’t want liberals in the government telling them how to raise their children, from Christian right circles worrying that the government is going to ban spanking to the more libertarian obsession with this idea that Michelle Obama is out to control how you feed your kids. In fact, the United States and South Sudan are the only countries to refuse to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, all because of conservative fears about the government telling parents how to discipline their children.*
If Christie’s comments are the start of Republicans exploiting the anti-vaccination movement to pander on the issue of “parental choice”—and to differentiate himself from his ideological opponents—that could really escalate what is already turning into a public health crisis. The last thing we need is for Fox News viewers to think they’re sticking it to nanny-state liberals by refusing to vaccinate their kids.
Correction, Feb. 2, 2015: This post originally stated that Somalia and the U.S. were the only countries that had not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. South Sudan has also not ratified the treaty. Somalia ratified it in January.