Chris Christie’s reasonable position on vaccines

Chris Christie is taking plenty of heat today, and not primarily because he turned up at an Arsenal match wearing a Gunners scarf. The heat, which I consider undeserved, arises from a comment the New Jersey governor made about vaccinating children.

Christie was asked to comment about the connection between the measles outbreak and decisions by parents not to vaccinate their children against the sickness. He responded that he and his wife have vaccinated their four children and called this “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.”

So far, so good.

Then Christie stated: “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.”

This is is the passage that has caused Christie to come under fire. The first sentence seems to imply that parental choice trumps concern by officials about public health. But the second sentence makes clear that Christie is calling only for “some measure of choice.” And the third sentence calls for “balance” and appears to say that the government should decide where to strike the balance.

Thus, Christie isn’t really saying that parental choice trumps public health concerns. However, the three sentences don’t present a very coherent statement about the matter.

But Christie went on to provide clarity by stating that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

This, then, is what Christie means by “some measure of [parental] choice” and “balance.” Government policy should balance the efficacy of the vaccine and the extent of the threat posed by the disease the vaccine is designed to prevent. This, presumably, will mean that some vaccines are mandatory and others are a matter of parental choice.

Thus, Daniel Foster is correct, I think, in summarizing Christie’s position as follows:

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.

Foster says he’s not sure he disagrees with any part of this position. I’m pretty sure I don’t.

Finally, I agree with the political point Foster makes about the criticism Christie is receiving for his comments from some conservatives:

[T]his 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. . . .There’s not much we can do to stop it, but we don’t have to actively encourage it, do we?