photo courtesy of DodgertonSkillhause at morguefile.com

photo courtesy of DodgertonSkillhause at morguefile.com

By Daniel Eckert
Student Writer

As winter draws to a close, the annual parade of diseases begins. It seems as if every year there is some form of virus which will surely annihilate us all if we do not take the necessary precautions such as washing our hands, avoiding contact with the sick, soaking our objects in disinfectant and buying a bubble. This year, the measles has come to the fore. It has also become the focus of a heated national discussion.

Anti-vaccination groups have been promoting the detriments of being vaccinated, mostly with unverified and unscientific claims. This became a political issue within the last week. Should we vaccinate our children and what role, if any, should the government play in mandating vaccination in the interest of public health?

The Democratic party, optimistic for a 2016 presidential win, seems to be practicing a strategy of silence. The White House has kept considerable distance from the issue of vaccination, leaving the CDC to handle questions about measles containment, precautions, and treatment. Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic candidate, tweeted her reaffirmation that vaccines work. However, rather than take a potential misstep which will come back to haunt them, many of the party’s most respected are simply letting events unfold.

Some Republican candidates, however, are eager to use this issue as a potential foothold in the 2016 race. Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christie have both offered varying degrees of support for the anti-vaccination movement, expressing the opinion that while some vaccinations should be mandatory, others should be left to the discretion of parents.

Both oppose The Affordable Health Care Act, and establishing a link between the Act and mandatory vaccination is a powerful rhetorical tool used to evoke feelings of discomfort and big-brother-esque apprehension. After all, who wants the government to force someone to be injected with chemicals?

However, anti-vaccination support is a dangerous tightrope to walk. On the one hand, there is great potential in Christie and Paul’s utilization of vaccination as an example of the small-government, common sense ethos they promote. On the other hand, to support dubious science or to  contribute to a degradation of public well-fare could be a political disaster. This is compounded due to the general public negativity towards the anti-vaccination movement. Any blundering or drops in public opinion could botch their presidential plans before the race even officially starts.

Paul’s experience with the medical profession will no doubt allow him some leeway in the face of any backlash. His inherent expertise and position of power could provide him with the means to recover. Christie, however, already mired in scandal, would find it nearly impossible to recover from a drop in public opinion.

In the meanwhile, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush are currently both trending high in the polls, and both have expressed anything but support for the anti-vaccination movement. Similarly, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and Rick Perry have been pro-vaccination. Time will tell who utilizes this potential opportunity most effectively.

Political candidates rise and fall on small issues. The vaccination debate offers a functional case study of how anything can become political fodder in the race for the White House. If one is going by the numbers, the measles outbreak is nothing which demands presidential attention, especially in comparison with issues like Ukraine, the Middle East, and the crumbling infrastructure. Unfortunately, candidates that would otherwise be concerned with networking with constituents, wooing super PACs, and making pilgrimages to foreign hotspots are now attempting to address an argument that should be a non-issue.

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