At least three Republican gubernatorial candidates this year have disavowed the mandatory vaccination of public school children, claiming they support a parent’s right to opt out of immunizations for non-medical reasons.
In Connecticut, Bob Stefanowski, currently trailing his Democratic opponent, told a Tea Party group last summer that whether children should be required to be vaccinated in order to attend public school “depends on the vaccination.”
“We shouldn’t be dumping a lot of drugs into kids for no reason,” he added.
Asked to explain that remark, a Stefanowski aide said that “while [Stefanowski] believes that the best practice is to vaccinate your children, he does not believe that the government should be able to legally force you to do so.”
Dr. Knute Buehler in Oregon has said parents should be allowed to opt out of mandatory vaccinations “for personal beliefs, for religious beliefs or even if they have strong alternative medical beliefs.”
Buehler described the opt-out system as beneficial. “I think that gives people option and choice and that’s the policy I would continue to pursue as Oregon’s governor,” he said.
And in Oklahoma, the Republican candidate said he did not have all of his own children vaccinated:
Kevin Stitt, the favorite in the governor’s race, said in February that “I believe in choice. And we’ve got six children and we don’t vaccinate, we don’t do vaccinations on all of our children. So we definitely pick and choose which ones we’re gonna do. It’s gotta be up to the parents, we can never mandate that. I think there’s legislation right now that are trying to mandate that to go to public schools, it’s absolutely wrong. My wife was home schooled, I went to public schools, our kids go to Christian school, and that’s back to a parent’s choice.”
As The Daily Beast noted, the anti-vaxx movement — which, oddly enough, Republicans have co-opted from left-leaning fringe players — presents a real danger to American society.
That this movement has caught on to this degree is alarming: At least one of these governors has a good shot at winning his election.
There is zero credible evidence that vaccines are unsafe and plenty of evidence that lowered vaccination rates are dangerous for the general population.
Since some people cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, they are vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles. Having non-vaccinated kids in their homeroom, because the kids’ parents believe in fairy tales rather than science, can cause them to get sick and even die.
That’s also true for babies who haven’t been vaccinated yet. The children of some ignorant anti-vaxxer could be carrying measles and then infect an infant without anyone knowing it.
Worst of all, thanks to the effect known as herd immunity, once a group’s overall vaccination level drops below a certain threshold (for measles, the threshold is around 94 percent), it makes it virtually impossible to contain the spread of disease. Too many unvaccinated people, and the disease has too many opportunities to travel throughout a population.
While the libertarian-flavor of Republican ideology makes the notion of parental choice a somewhat understandable position, the idea of public health has been a relatively apolitical issue — until now.
The vaccine issue is a canary in the coal mine of American civil society. If we can’t come together on protecting kids from getting measles, we really are coming apart at the seams.
Just a few years ago, the anti-vaxxer “movement” was a small fringe group of weirdos. At first, they were just ludicrous. Then, when the first kids started getting measles, they were dangerous wingnuts. Now, they are running for governor as the Republican nominees in at least three states. At least one is likely to win.