This week, presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg was in New York, a city currently in the midst of a public health emergency declared in response to a measles outbreak. Sadly, it seemed Buttigieg was too busy watching Al Sharpton eat dry toast to pay much heed to what’s been going on here.
Buzzfeed News asked all the 2020 presidential hopefuls about vaccines. Trump, for the record, keeps changing his mind about them. Of the candidates who responded (quite a few did not, including Biden, Inslee, Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke, who was probably standing on a counter somewhere), most said they strongly believed in vaccinations. In a statement provided to Buzzfeed News, Buttigieg said he also believed in vaccinations, but supported “some exceptions”:
“These exemptions include medical exemptions in all cases (as in cases where it is unsafe for the individual to get vaccinated), and personal/religious exemptions if states can maintain local herd immunity and there is no public health crisis,” the spokesperson said.
Obviously, there are some medical conditions that should preclude you from getting vaccinated, but states are increasingly turning away from non-medical exemptions for vaccines because—well, they can lead to measles outbreaks.
Buttigieg, after considerable criticism and perhaps realizing he was flirting with anti-vax conspiracy, quickly issued a “clarifying” statement walking back the his stance on personal exemptions:
Pete believes vaccines are safe and effective and are necessary to maintaining public health,” the spokesperson said. “There is no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, and he believes children should be immunized to protect their health. He is aware that in most states the law provides for some kinds of exemptions. He believes only medical exemptions should be allowed.
Well thanks, Pete!
In 2000, doctors believed measles had been eradicated in the United States, but NPR reports, as vaccination rates dip in some places, the country now harbors at least 700 reported measles cases, spread out among 22 states. It is the worst outbreak in at least 25 years.
Herd immunity for the more contagious diseases necessitates a 90 to 95 percent vaccination rate, and when you start opening up the Personal Exemption Pandora’s Box, it’s easy to for that to start slipping. The aforementioned outbreak in New York got its foothold in Haredi Jewish communities in Brooklyn. Only a few thousand children in those communities were unvaccinated—in a city of 8.5 million—but there have been 423 cases of measles since October, constituting New York’s worst outbreak in two decades.
“There is no absolute, inviolate right to leave children unprotected from serious disease,” Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a professor UC Hastings College of Law, and Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine, wrote in a recent op-ed on the kind of personal exemptions endorsed (and then unendorsed) by Buttigieg. “We would not grant religious exemptions for putting infants in car seats or not having children wear bicycle helmets. Morally, children’s rights to be free from easily preventable disease ought to come first.”