What was Chris Christie thinking when he made this comment on vaccines? Update: Clarification

There is no debate over the efficacy of vaccinations or the need to vaccinate children against serious diseases. Outside of new age enclaves in places like Lagunitas, California, where the parents of ticking biological time bombs commit to meditating on the issue before determining that it is in their child’s best interest to subject them to medieval infections, most Americans agree that vaccinations and herd immunities are critical civilizational advances.

That’s what President Barack Obama said when he was asked about a recent outbreak of the measles, a disease that was at one point contained but has since enjoyed a comeback because a number of self-absorbed parents have decided to project their lost sense of uniqueness onto their children. “You should get your kids vaccinated,” the president said in an interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie broadcast on Monday. “The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

That’s the correct answer. There are no two sides to this issue, and it’s nice to see the president refuse to vacillate or hedge despite some differences of opinion shared by many in his party’s base. Obama’s refreshingly incautious and unmistakable pro-vaccine advocacy casts an even more negative light on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was also asked for his take on preventable outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough. The Garden State’s tough-talking, no-nonsense governor, whose frankness is the very foundation of his political appeal, decided it was in his interest to vacillate on whether vaccinations are necessary.

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “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.”

Christie’s comments came after a laboratory tour at MedImmune, a biologics company that makes vaccines in Cambridge. Christie is on a three-day tour of Britain designed to promote trade with New Jersey businesses and round out his foreign policy resume ahead of a likely 2016 run for the White House.

It is hard to know what Christie was thinking here. Has he been advised that, because choice on issues like education and health care are conservative rallying cries, even immunizing children against life-threatening diseases should be a matter of personal discretion? Though he may be one, it seems unlikely that the governor is a genuine skeptic on the medical value of immunization regimens. If he is not, though, why then would he not clearly and definitively articulate his view on this matter when he has done the same on infinitely more controversial and debatable matters in the past? If he is a vaccine skeptic, why would he not come out and say as much? The stigma associated with holding those beliefs couldn’t be nearly as traumatizing as confessing life-long Dallas Cowboys fandom in the home of the Meadowlands.

All of this suggests that Christie is getting some bad advice from a communications consultant who thinks the Garden State governor can be all things to everyone. If there is any candidate who cannot present himself as a blank canvas onto which the voters can project their aspirations, it is Chris Christie. For all his faults and virtues, Christie is one of the most well-defined characters in the race. He should be embracing his reputation for candor, not sabotaging it by attempting to be as mealy-mouthed and vague as possible.

This comment was a bizarre one. It is an unforced error. It has hurt his political brand and made Barack Obama appear a model of guileless honesty in comparison. What was Christie thinking?

Update: Christie has clarified his remarks on vaccines via a press release:

The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time, different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.

Good for the governor. This is a more nuanced approach to the issue, and a rather reasonable one. Some have suggested that Christie’s comments were no more controversial than were Obama’s. If that’s true, there would have been no need to clarify them.