February 5, 2015 7:22 AM EST

Chris Christie called for “balance” this week between public health and parents’ right to choose when it comes to vaccinating their children, going against the prevailing science.

Christie’s office was quick to walk back his comments and say “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” But TIME’s Science Cop Jeffrey Kluger explains why statements like this, and the ongoing decision by many to forego vaccinations, are harming America’s children.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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