Yes, Chris Christie, “˜Not Every Vaccine Is Created Equal.’ Get Them Anyway.

When a vaccine is ineffective, it’s even more important for everyone to have it.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Feb. 2, 2015, 7:52 a.m.

With pres­id­en­tial primary sea­son loom­ing, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie is fi­nally voicing his opin­ion on na­tion­al is­sues. And out of the gate, he’s stir­ring up con­tro­versy. Monday morn­ing, Christie said that while he be­lieves vac­cin­a­tion is a pub­lic good, par­ents should have a de­gree of choice in the mat­ter. The Wash­ing­ton Post quoted him say­ing, “Not every vac­cine is cre­ated equal, and not every dis­ease type is as great a pub­lic health threat as oth­ers.” These com­ments come just a day after Pres­id­ent Obama urged all par­ents to “get your kids vac­cin­ated,” in light of the re­cent measles out­break in Cali­for­nia.

Christie’s of­fice did cla­ri­fy his po­s­i­tion. “There is no ques­tion kids should be vac­cin­ated,” a state­ment read. But his thoughts on policy are vague. He calls for “a meas­ure of choice,” and “bal­ance” over which vac­cines the gov­ern­ment should man­date. Yes, it would be prob­ably be weird pub­lic policy if the U.S. gov­ern­ment took a to­tal­it­ari­an ap­proach: bar­ging in­to homes with nurses and syr­inges. There are some le­git­im­ate reas­ons not to vac­cin­ate a child. Al­ler­gic re­ac­tions can hap­pen. There are tricky vac­cin­a­tion de­cisions to make for chil­dren born with HIV. But for the vast, vast ma­jor­ity of chil­dren, vac­cines are safe, and they should stay to the pre­scribed sched­ule.

If Christie is ad­voc­at­ing for the par­ent­al right to choose vac­cin­a­tions à la carte (it isn’t clear if he is) based on how ef­fect­ive the vac­cines are and how dan­ger­ous the dis­eases are, his think­ing is curi­ous. Look no fur­ther than the mumps and the flu.

The mumps vac­cine — in­cluded in the MMR shot that also in­ocu­lates for measles and ru­bella — is not that great. De­pend­ing on how many doses a per­son gets, the mumps vac­cine is about 80 to 90 per­cent ef­fect­ive. Mean­ing that out of 100 people with the shot, about 20 still might be able to get the mumps.

But more people with the vac­cine means few­er op­por­tun­it­ies for those 20 people to be­come in­fec­ted. It’s called herd im­munity: Hav­ing more people in a com­munity with the mumps vac­cine makes every in­di­vidu­al’s dose of the vac­cine, in ef­fect, stronger. For mumps, doc­tors say between 88 and 92 per­cent of people in a group need to have the vac­cine to keep the dis­ease from spread­ing.

And con­sider the flu, a dis­ease that most healthy kids can ride out just fine. It’s really im­port­ant for chil­dren to get the flu shot. Be­cause kids are gross. Chil­dren most read­ily pass the flu on to oth­ers, in­clud­ing the eld­erly, who of­ten don’t ride out the dis­ease just fine. The journ­al Vac­cine finds that the op­tim­al way to mit­ig­ate a flu sea­son is to pri­or­it­ize kids.

So yes, Gov­ernor, not all vac­cines are cre­ated equal. And neither are dis­eases. But wheth­er those facts should factor in­to a vac­cin­a­tion de­cision … well, it’s a lot more com­plic­ated than that.

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