The recent measles outbreak has inspired a sort of battle of wills in the political arena. Republicans are tripping over themselves trying to get their remarks about vaccines out, in an attempt to have influence on primary and general election voters. This vaccine outbreak originally started the place all wonderful things do: Disneyland. Since then, it has spread to 14 states with 102 different cases.
Now, it may not be a very popular opinion in homeschool-land, but vaccines are awesome. I would gesture to call them the most beneficial invention of the past two hundred years. As Melinda Gates said in an interview with the Huffington Post:
“Women in the developing world know the power [of vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. [Americans have] forgotten what measles deaths look like.”
Mrs. Gates was referencing the growing movement of people against vaccinations, aka “anti-vaxxers.” Anti-vaxxers aren’t just hurting themselves and their children, but infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems unable to get the vaccines. They even harm children who get the measles vaccine, but fall into the <1% failure rate. Choosing not to get the flu vaccine is one thing (frankly, the flu vaccine is mostly guesswork), even though I get it every year. But, people who decline vaccines for measles and other diseases that used to be cured in the Western world are putting others at inherent risk.
Out of Republican Presidential hopefuls, three camps have emerged. First is the few who believe that vaccines should be mandatory; Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, is the only major player who has taken this stance. As he said in a statement to The Hill,
“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”
Other Republicans, namely Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, have taken more moderate positions, with Gov. Christie telling The Hill in the same article that “parents need to have some measure of choice” in vaccinations.
Last come the potential candidates who don’t just advocate against the government forcing people to get vaccinated, but against vaccinations themselves. Sarah Palin (obviously) has believed this for years, and unfortunately, Rand Paul has adopted this position. Don’t get me wrong, I really try to like Rand Paul. But, he’s not making it easy for me to like him. As Vox News reported, he declared that he had:
“heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”
In comparison, Hillary Clinton has come out strongly in favor of vaccines, using the hashtag “#GrandmotherKnowsBest.”
These differences will have important effects if this issue gets politicized in 2016. As the statistics-journalism site FiveThirtyEight found in an article worth checking out for the graphs alone, mandatory vaccinations were the issue Republicans disagreed with scientists the least on out of scientifically controversial issues, with a split of only 21%. Democrats were split with scientists by 10%.
This plays into the 2016 presidential election rather simply: the more conservative the voter, the more likely they are to vote in the primary. Someone like Ben Carson might lose the primary on mandatory vaccinations alone, while someone like Rand Paul would get a strong boost from a skeptical view of vaccines.
However, in order to win the general election, a candidate can’t just win conservatives. He has to be able to appeal to Republicans, independents, and even some disillusioned Democrats. Someone perceived as anti-science like Rand Paul does not have a chance of doing so.
Too many of the potential candidates are focusing only on the primary instead of the general election, instead of keeping both in mind. In order to win both the primary and the general election, the eventual Republican nominee will have to recognize the need for parental choice, but at the same time not come out hard against vaccines. At the moment, only Chris Christie and Jeb Bush accomplish this.