New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that the government should "balance" parent choice and public health when it comes to measles vaccinations, in comments that broke with President Barack Obama—and prevailing science on the issue. His office quickly walked back the comments and said Christie believes "there is no question kids should be vaccinated."
The initial comment from the 2016 Republican presidential contender came during remarks to reporters in England, the Washington Post reports, and follows news that a measles outbreak in the United States has infected more than 100 people in 14 states.
“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 said. “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 office later sought to clarify his remarks and sent reporters a full transcript showing that Christie made a point not to side with vaccination skeptics when asked if he thinks the shots are dangerous.
"I didn't say that," Christie said, according to the transcript. "I said different disease types can be more lethal so that the concern would be measuring whatever the perceived danger is by vaccine and we've had plenty of that over a period of time versus what the risk to public health is and you have to have that balance and that's exactly what I mean by what I said."
"The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated," Christie's office said. "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."
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Anti-vaccination activists say the shots can lead to autism and other conditions, but the overwhelming scientific consensus says that's not the case. Christie's statement came the day after Obama called on parents to vaccinate their children.
"The science is, you know, pretty indisputable," Obama told NBC News. "We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”
Christie struck a notably different public health stance at the height of the Ebola fears in the U.S., forcibly quarantining a nurse who had returned from treating patients in Africa despite her testing negative for the virus—and also against the advice of public health experts.
Christie is traveling to England on a trade mission that is largely seen as an attempt to boost his foreign policy credentials ahead of a likely 2016 run.