The Corner

You’re Overreacting to the Christie Vaccination Thing

If you’re one of the people in my Twitter feed this morning, chances are you are badly overreacting to comments New Jersey governor Chris Christie made regarding the importance of ”balance” in government policy on vaccination. To show you why, consider a philosophical and then a political point. 

First, the philosophical point. Here’s what Christie said: 

Mr. Christie, when asked about the connection between the new measles cases and parents who object to the long-recommended vaccine against it, said that he and his wife had vaccinated their four children. He called that “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.”

But he added: “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. 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 said that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

“I think you should vaccinate your kids. And I support some level of government coercion to make sure you do so. But there’s a limit to the level of coercion I support, and it depends in part on the safety of the vaccine and the magnitude of the public-health threat.” 

Is that a fair approximation of what Christie said? If it is, I’m not sure I disagree with any part of it. Do you? 

Let me put it another way. If you support mandatory, full-spectrum vaccination and oppose “death panels,” you’d better be able to at least gesture at a limited principle located somewhere between the two. To anticipate your reply, of course I think there is such a limiting principle, but there are plenty of tough cases. Children aren’t routinely vaccinated against anthrax, for instance, because of the level and nature of the threat. And the vaccine causes enough serious adverse reactions (to about 1 percent of recipients) that there were lawsuits and injunctions filed in response to a Clinton-era program making them mandatory for military personnel. Do you support mandatory anthrax vaccination for all kids?

What about mandatory flu shots? 

Mandatory circumcision? 

Prohibitions on circumcision?

Prohibitions on brown-bag lunches at schools? 

Tell me when to stop. Remember, when progressives argue for coercion in health-care policy, it’s almost always under the principle that the cost of individual bad behavior is borne by society. So while a measles outbreak is a pretty clear-cut illustration of this, so too is the “obesity epidemic,” according to some. 

People who care about liberty would do well to put some thought into what distinguishes one from the other. 

The anti-vaccination movement was created by a toxic mix of headline-grabbing pseudo-scientists, new-age lifestyle gurus, idiot celebrities, hipster Luddites, and helicopter parents.  It’s dangerous and it’s tragic and the people who made it happen ought to be held to account. But one can still support a measure of — gasp — parental autonomy without going full-on Jenny McCarthy. 

Two, the political point. 

This is it, people, this is the next two years. New York Times reporters following around GOP aspirants with gotcha questions designed to make them look like yokels and kooks. It’s what about your gaffes?! on repeat from here until Hillary’s coronation. 

There’s not much we can do to stop it, but we don’t have to actively encourage it, do we?

Daniel FosterDaniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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