Editor's note: The following is an early release of the Antigravity column to be published in the April 2015 issue.
As I write these words in early February, the nation is watching a measles outbreak caused by parents opting out of vaccines for their children. Meanwhile presidential hopefuls have been making news via their strong pro-choicey opinions, which are somehow about whether to get your kids vaccinated. I was going to pass on commenting, so weary did I become upon hearing the retrograde absurdities that came out of the mouths of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Representative Sean Duffy (R-WI).
But then Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) saw and raised them in this game of high-stakes public health poker by questioning whether we need regulations mandating that restaurant employees wash up after they defecate.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Tillis noted his sadness over the shackles that regulations put on businesses. And as an example, he cited the onerous hand-washing requirements. “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks,” he said, “if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom. The market will take care of that.” I hope you don’t die of E. coli before the market correction.
Now that I’m up to my waist, I’ll dive in the rest of the way.
Appearing on MSNBC, Duffy said of vaccine mandates, “I know what morals and values are right for my children. I think we should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do … I vaccinate my kids on most things, but then there are some things where I’m like, this may not work for me and my values.” The word “values” makes me suspect Duffy might have an issue with keeping his kids safe from cancers caused by human papillomaviruses because they are spread by S-E-X.
On a recent visit to England, Christie said, “We vaccinate ours [kids], and so, you know, that’s the best expression I can give you of my opinion. You know it’s much more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. And that’s what we do. But 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.” I can’t really come up with a comment to this statement because, huh?
Dr. Rand Paul said on CNBC he’d heard of “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He also claimed that vaccinations should not be required, because “the state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.”
After being criticized for his comments, Paul told a New York Times reporter, “It just annoys me that I’m being characterized as someone who’s against vaccines.… That’s not what I said. I said I’ve heard of people who’ve had vaccines, and they see a temporal association and they believe that.” And I know guys who believe what chair they sit in affects whether their favorite sports team wins. For the record, the connection is harder to spot between the many, many happy cases of walking, talking, normal kids who wound up being healthy adults after vaccines because of the lack of any temporal association.
I was getting pretty depressed, but then I heard a man on the radio say to an antivaccine parent, “You’re a danger to this country. Your children must be vaccinated, for the good of society and for your children’s health. Stop with all this cockamamy fake science that you guys are making up.” And radio personality Howard Stern, because that’s the guy who was making all this sense, went on to say, “There are some things we do because they’re proven. If your child had polio, if you had seen the ravages of polio and of mumps and measles—mumps and measles kill babies. If someone told you there’s a cure, you would rush to get it—and there is one! And you guys are acting like there isn’t. And then you’re saying, ‘Well, everyone else will get these vaccines.’ It’s not fair. We’ve got to immunize everyone. And there’s nothing out there that says your child is going to be damaged by these vaccines, nothing!”
So that’s the state of our national discourse: a notoriously foul-mouthed shock jock apparently has a better and more sensible understanding of immunology and public health than does a medical doctor in the U.S. Senate. Thank you, Mr. Stern, for the shot in the arm.