Governor Christie’s Dangerous Double-Talk on Vaccines

By Keith Kloor | February 2, 2015 10:39 am

The Republican political strategy during the past six years has been simple and consistent: If Obama was for it, we had to be against it.

No cooperation meant no bipartisan photo ops.

The one guy who bucked that was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the Governor praised President Obama for his “outstanding” and “wonderful” response in the storm’s aftermath. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

He [Christie] even told Fox News the president had done a “great job for New Jersey” while staying above the fray about politics: “I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the Shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”

Fast forward to the present, as Christie mulls a potential run in next year’s presidential election. Over the weekend, President Obama weighed in on the recent measles outbreak making news, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns may grow wider. On Sunday, Obama said in an interview:

You should get your kids vaccinated. It’s good for them, but we should be able to get back to the point where measles effectively is not existing in this country.

He also said this:

I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. 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.

What Obama is referring to here is the resistance of some parents to vaccines–the kind of resistance driven by misguided health concerns that you see expressed in this recent New York Times article. When Obama says there aren’t reasons to not vaccinate, he’s referring to those fears about side effects that have been amplified by anti-vaccine activists.

Enter Governor Christie, who is quoted today as saying:

there has to be a balance and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is, and all the rest. Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.

Way to muddy the waters, Governor. If the measles outbreak spreads to New Jersey, will you continue with this kind of irresponsible double-talk? When it comes to important public health issues that are already roiled by urban myths and misinformation, it’s best not to talk out of both sides of your mouth.

UPDATE: Christie is getting hammered all over the internet. His office just tweeted a clarification:

Yeah, that should clear things up.

UPDATE: In fairness to Christie, political pandering to parental vaccine fears is a bipartisan activity–as Brendan Nyhan reminds us. [And as I found out later, the Obama angle of that storyline is incorrect]

UPDATE: Nyhan has published a really important NYT piece today: “Spreading along with measles: Polarization on a hot-button issue.”

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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