Don't Listen to Chris Christie; Vaccinate Your Kids - Pacific Standard

Don't Listen to Chris Christie; Vaccinate Your Kids

Vaccinations are typically regarded as the most important public health advancement in history. So why are they going away?
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A nurse prepares a measles vaccine. (Photo: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)

A nurse prepares a measles vaccine. (Photo: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)

In the midst of a measles resurgence—one of the most contagious diseases on Earth—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to throw in his two cents on the debate between public safety and parental rights when it comes to vaccines. 

Standing outside of a pharmaceutical company in the United Kingdom, Christie told reporters: “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.”

In 2014, the number of measles cases in the U.S. reached 644, more than three times the number of cases in any other year since the disease was eliminated. This year may shatter records again; there have been over 100 cases reported in January alone. 

Vaccinations are typically regarded as the most important public health advancement in history. But their success in eliminating deadly and disfiguring diseases has in part contributed to the recent push-back against childhood vaccinations. Parents worry less about the horrifying symptoms of measles that they’ve never witnessed than the dozens of inevitable pin pricks and potential fevers their children will endure during the vaccination process. 

Parental choice has allowed a disease that was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 to soar, thanks to pockets of unimmunized communities. The nationwide rate of vaccination for kindergarteners hovers around 90 percent, but in some areas, including many wealthy communities in Southern California, the rate is much lower. In San Geronimo, a community north of San Francisco, only 60 percent of elementary students are vaccinated against measles. In 2014, the number of measles cases in the U.S. reached 644, more than three times the number of cases in any other year since the disease was eliminated. This year may shatter records again; there have been over 100 cases reported in January alone. A bit of good news here: New public health campaigns are aggressively working to combat this anti-vaccination trend. (In fact, they've already made a dent in the number of vaccine waivers.)

In response to the immediate backlash, Christie added that he believes vaccines to be an important public health intervention, and that the decision to vaccinate should take into account both the perceived dangers of a vaccine and the real danger posed by individual diseases. Still, anti-vaxxers will no doubt latch onto his initial statements. 

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