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Christie takes fire over controversial vaccine comments

Chris Christie
Chris Christie
Scott Olson / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

  1. Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), asked Monday to comment on the ongoing measles outbreak, at first opted not to affirmatively recommend that parents vaccinate their children. Instead, the likely presidential candidate said parents should have "some measure of choice" in deciding whether their children are vaccinated, according to multiple reports.
  2. However, after these remarks caused some controversy, Christie's office issued a statement saying the governor "believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated." Instead, the statement says, Christie was only "calling for balance in which [degrees of vaccination] government should mandate."
  3. Initially, Christie had said that his own children are vaccinated. "Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it's an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health," Christie said, according to the Washington Post and New York Times, and said that was "the best expression I can give you of my opinion" on vaccinations.
  4. But he went on to say that parental choice should be key. "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." He added: "Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others."
  5. Christie's comments came during a trip to England, as he stood "in front of a facility for MedImmune, an American company that makes a nasal flu vaccine," as Michael Barbaro noted. The day before, President Obama said in a nationally televised interview that parents should vaccinate their children.

The politics of vaccines

Christie's comments — and subsequent clarification — come at a time when anti-vaccination parents have been increasingly criticized for causing a public health risk . As Sarah Kliff recently argued, the point of vaccinations isn't to stop the vaccinated person from getting the disease — it's to prevent the disease from spreading to others.

While many associate anti-vaccine attitudes with the political left, a study by Professor Dan Kahan of Yale found that they are distributed across the political spectrum:

Dan Kahan vaccine study

Indeed, vaccination was a contentious issue in the last Republican presidential primary. Gov. Rick Perry came under fire from Rep. Michele Bachmann for requiring Texas girls to be vaccinated for HPV. Bachmann falsely claimed that the vaccine caused mental health problems in young children.

This time around, the backlash against Christie's comments was swift — including from several conservatives:

Christie's position here also makes an odd contrast with his mandatory quarantine of a nurse returning from West Africa who had treated Ebola. Kaci Hickox had no symptoms of the disease at the time (and didn't have it), yet Christie quarantined her for several days, against the recommendations of public health experts. But as one Twitter user pointed out, back in 2009, Christie said he was conflicted about then-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's call for mandatory flu shots:

This post has been updated to include a new statement from Christie's office.