Carly Fiorina: Parents should have a right not to have their kids vaccinated -- and schools should have a right not to accept them

Lotta media buzz this morning over what she said yesterday — or at least, the first part of what she said — about vaccines, but her stance on this isn’t new. She argued for some degree of parental choice back in February when BuzzFeed asked her about it. But now that she’s cracked the GOP field’s top tier, I guess the “gotcha” effort needs to begin in earnest. What better place to start than with an issue that tripped up Chris Christie and Rand Paul earlier this year?

She draws the line where most Republicans would, I imagine: The state can’t dictate to a parent over their child’s health, but that parent has no right to put other parents’ children at risk in the schoolyard.

Speaking at a town hall on Thursday in Alden, Iowa, Fiorina responded to a question from a mother of five who claimed that one of her children had an adverse reaction to a vaccination, saying “It’s always the parent’s choice.” She continued by referencing her daughter, who Fiorina said was bullied by a school nurse into vaccinating her pre-teen daughter for the Human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. “Measles is one thing…,” Fiorina said.

“When you have highly communicable diseases where you have a vaccine that’s proven, like measles or mumps, then I think a parent can make that choice, but then I think a school district is well within their rights to say, ‘I’m sorry, your child cannot then attend public school,’” Fiorina explained to reporters after the event.

“So a parent has to make that trade-off,” she continued. “I think when we’re talking about some of these more esoteric immunizations, then I think absolutely a parent should have a choice and a school district shouldn’t be able to say, ‘sorry, your kid can’t come to school’ for a disease that’s not communicable, that’s not contagious, and where there really isn’t any proof that they’re necessary at this point.”

Back in late January, when vaccinemania first broke out in political media, Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama is strongly pro-vaccine but believes “people should evaluate this for themselves,” which … puts him squarely in line with Fiorina from what I can tell. In fact, considering that 47 of the 50 states do allow unvaccinated kids to attend public school so long as their parents are claiming a religious and/or conscientious exemption from the law, Fiorina’s actually more of a pro-vaccine hardliner than most state legislatures are. (Of the three states that don’t grant exemptions, two are deep red West Virginia and Mississippi. The other is California, which eliminated its exemptions this year after some upper-class new-age liberals stopped vaccinating their kids for measles because it was “unnatural” or whatever.)

Fiorina’s compromise, letting parents make choices for their kids but then effectively quarantining those kids from schools so that immunosuppressed students aren’t put at risk, obviously isn’t perfect. An unvaccinated kid could still encounter another who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons at the playground, at the mall, wherever. If you think society should take whatever legal measures are necessary to promote herd immunity, individual choice be damned, there shouldn’t be any room for parental oversight. That’s an easy position if you’re a liberal since you’ve already bought into far lesser mandates in the name of public health, but for someone who still cares about liberty, Fiorina’s (and Obama’s) position is probably the best you can do. As Dan Foster wrote back in February:

If you support mandatory, full-spectrum vaccination and oppose “death panels,” you’d better be able to at least gesture at a limited principle located somewhere between the two. To anticipate your reply, of course I think there is such a limiting principle, but there are plenty of tough cases. Children aren’t routinely vaccinated against anthrax, for instance, because of the level and nature of the threat. And the vaccine causes enough serious adverse reactions (to about 1 percent of recipients) that there were lawsuits and injunctions filed in response to a Clinton-era program making them mandatory for military personnel. Do you support mandatory anthrax vaccination for all kids?…

Remember, when progressives argue for coercion in health-care policy, it’s almost always under the principle that the cost of individual bad behavior is borne by society. So while a measles outbreak is a pretty clear-cut illustration of this, so too is the “obesity epidemic,” according to some. 

People who care about liberty would do well to put some thought into what distinguishes one from the other. 

The reason liberals get excited when Republicans equivocate, even a tiny bit, about mandatory vaccination isn’t because they fear 10 million cases of measles under President Fiorina, it’s because they’re eager to mainstream the idea that Uncle Sam should have broader powers over people’s health generally. Framing Republicans as kooks on this issue is a small way to make opposition to government diktats on health seem kooky generally. Exit question: Speaking of kooky, isn’t there another, more prominent Republican in the race whose views on vaccinations are a lot more … interesting than Fiorina’s? Weird that the media’s focused on her this morning instead of him.