Measels becomes issue in GOP campaign for presidency

From SF Gate - February 3, 2015

“It is absurd and comical that candidates who clearly are running for president can latch onto an issue like this and drag it into the realm of politics,” said Doug Elmets, a political strategist and former White House adviser to the late Republican President Ronald Reagan. Elmets said the Christie and Paul comments appeared calculated to win converts in the fundraising and popularity contests that precede party primaries, when candidates jostle for the attention of hard-core party activists.

Elmets called measles a classic example of ambitious candidates choosing between “what is really right, and that is to be vaccinated,” versus “what is politically advantageous, and that is to talk about personal choice.”

 

An outbreak of measles, a highly contagious childhood disease long thought vanquished, has suddenly become an issue in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie posed vaccinations as a question of parental choice, not public health.

With a measles outbreak having now spread to 14 states, sickening 102 people, Christie said there should be a “measure of choice” for parents on whether to vaccinate their children — a statement from which his aides furiously backpedaled. Paul then amplified at length, saying he has “heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound medical disorders after vaccines.”

The comments come in the midst of a furious national debate between antivaccination crusaders and people who believe in childhood immunizations. While appealing to a libertarian and socially conservative Republican base deeply skeptical of government, Christie’s and Paul’s defiance of epidemiology on vaccinations, like skepticism about global warming, runs the risk of feeding into perceptions of the Republican Party as antiscience, a portrait that Democrats paint at every opportunity.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi waded into the issue at a question-and-answer session after a speech in Washington on Tuesday. Treading carefully at first by recounting the “many hours” she has spent listening to concerns of parents and antivaccine activists found at the fringes of both parties, the San Francisco Democrat said, “The fact is children should be vaccinated.”

And likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton leapt on the antiscience theme, tweeting, “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork.”

“It is absurd and comical that candidates who clearly are running for president can latch onto an issue like this and drag it into the realm of politics,” said Doug Elmets, a political strategist and former White House adviser to the late Republican President Ronald Reagan. Elmets said the Christie and Paul comments appeared calculated to win converts in the fundraising and popularity contests that precede party primaries, when candidates jostle for the attention of hard-core party activists.

Elmets called measles a classic example of ambitious candidates choosing between “what is really right, and that is to be vaccinated,” versus “what is politically advantageous, and that is to talk about personal choice.”

Raised eyebrows

Paul’s comments especially raised eyebrows, given his medical training as an ophthalmologist. As the most clearly libertarian of the potential GOP presidential rivals, Paul tends to take a dubious view of government mandates. But by drawing such a stark connection between “mental disorders” such as autism and vaccinations, he was fueling an urban legend traceable to a long-discredited study, said Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Carolyn Lochhead|Reporter

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