Vaccines Have Become a Political Wedge Issue and There May Only Be One Solution February 3, 2015

Vaccines Have Become a Political Wedge Issue and There May Only Be One Solution

It’s been a disturbing couple of weeks in the world of common-sense vaccines. What was not that long ago a fringe movement of people (including liberals) who took medical advice from the likes of Jenny McCarthy (or their own gut) has somehow become a political wedge issue.

Chris Christie said yesterday he was for vaccine “choice” before he clarified his remarks a bit:

Earlier Monday, Christie waded into the vaccination debate during his visit to the United Kingdom, telling reporters in Cambridge that he believes U.S. government must “balance” public health interests with parental choice. In a break with President Obama, Christie said parents should have “some measure of choice” about immunizing their children from measles and other viruses and diseases.

Carly Fiorina, another Republican with aspirations for higher office, spoke along those same lines:

She went on, “I think vaccinating for measles makes a lot of sense. But that’s me. I do think parents have to make those choices. I mean, I got measles as a kid. We used to all get measles… I got chicken pox, I got measles, I got mumps.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how these right-wingers are suddenly for choice, an option that’s off the table when it comes to abortion…

And there’s Sen. Rand Paul, an actual doctor, who tossed every shred of medical expertise out the window:

[Paul] said that vaccination should be voluntary, but claimed outright that vaccines were tied to autism. “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

The hell…?! The key word there is “heard,” because those stories are told by a lot of misinformed people. But a better doctor would know there’s no link between vaccines and autism.

Incredibly, one of the most conservative Christian candidates out there, Dr. Ben Carson, seemed to be the voice of reason on this issue:

“Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

Carson said diseases of the past should not be allowed to return because of people avoiding vaccines on religious or philosophical grounds.

“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious, or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” Carson said in the statement.

I’ve always felt that when it came to hot-button issues like these, persuasion was always the key. You have to educate people and find a way through their aura of ignorance.

But I think a more take-no-prisoners approach is necessary in cases like these. I agree with Jamelle Bouie at Slate:

So far, we don’t have a sure answer for how to convince parents to choose vaccines. But that’s not to say we don’t know how to increase vaccination rates. We do, and it’s through force. The two states with the highest vaccination rates are West Virginia and Mississippi, and they achieve this with strong public health programs and mandatory vaccination laws with strict standards for exemptions. Neither state, for instance, allows religious or philosophical exemptions to vaccine requirements for schools. Either you vaccinate your child, or she doesn’t attend class.

Put another way, I want to persuade these parents that vaccines would be best for them and their children. But if persuasion doesn’t work, then I’m OK with coercion, too.

I don’t think you could ever forced parents to give their kids vaccines, but you could make the penalties so steep that they really have no choice.

This shouldn’t be a political issue, but this isn’t a battle the Republicans want to have. This isn’t one of those issues where you have to reflexively oppose whatever Obama says. The GOP is already thought of as the anti-science party. If Republican leaders are questioning the efficacy of vaccines, they’re going to double down on that label, alienating many of the moderates they need in 2016.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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