Vaccines and the Presidential Campaign

By Emily Largent

The 2016 Presidential race is gathering steam, and this has led me to wonder what–if any–effect the recent measles outbreak might have on campaigns.  While a majority of the public holds the view that vaccinating kids is the right thing to do, a growing number of people are eschewing vaccinations.  Moreover, it has been said that skepticism about inoculations is “one of those issues that . . . grab people across the political spectrum.”

I was, therefore, interested to see that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who launched a political action committee last month ahead of a likely run for the GOP presidential nomination, said on Monday that parents “need to have some measure of choice” about vaccinating their children.  See also here.

The Washington Post calls this a “flub, plain and simple” that makes Christie look less than ready for the presidency.  The Democrats responded immediately.  A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee accused Christie of pandering to the “radical, conspiracy theory base” of the Republican Party.  Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s senior advisor, requested via Twitter that Mr. Christie “clarify” his statement.  The Governor’s office moved swiftly to respond, issuing a statement that said: 

“The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.  At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

In contrast to Christie, President Obama told parents on Sunday, “There is every reason to get vaccinated — there aren’t reasons to not.”

What do you think?  Will politicians speak with one voice as the White House has encouraged?  Or, will vaccine policy become a litmus test for (at least some) politicians to showcase their values regarding personal freedom, personal choice, personal responsibility, and the like?  If so, what effect will this have on the anti-vaccine movement?

Emily Largent

Emily Largent is an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine. She also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania LawSchool. Her research examines ethical and regulatory issues arising in human subjects research and when integration of clinical research is integrated with clinical care; she has a particular focus on Alzheimer’s disease research. Emily received her PhD in Health Policy (Ethics) from Harvard and her JD from Harvard Law School. Prior to that, she received her BS in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and completed a fellowship in the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health.

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