Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina may be taking a harder pro-vaccination line than other GOP candidates.
â€œWhen you have highly communicable diseases where you have a vaccine thatâ€™s proven, like measles or mumps, then I think a parent can make that choice,” Fiorina said, according to Time, “but then I think a school district is well within their rights to say, â€˜Iâ€™m sorry, your child cannot then attend public school.'”
â€œSo a parent has to make that trade-off,â€ Fiorina continued. â€œI think when weâ€™re talking about some of these more esoteric immunizations, then I think absolutely a parent should have a choice and a school district shouldnâ€™t be able to say, â€˜sorry, your kid canâ€™t come to schoolâ€™ for a disease thatâ€™s not communicable, thatâ€™s not contagious, and where there really isnâ€™t any proof that theyâ€™re necessary at this point.â€
Fiorina was specifically referring to her own pre-teen daughter in this case, who she says was pressured by a school nurse to be vaccinated for human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that no one argues is an airborne threat to school populations.
“The Republican presidential candidate appeared to be sticking to the party line in her position,” wrote Alan Rappeport in the New York Times, “explaining that vaccines should be a matter of personal and religious freedom.”
But it is not clear whether her position actually leans strongly toward personal and religious freedom. Fiorina’s position is that parents may choose not to vaccinate for serious communicable diseases, but that schools could then refuse to enroll. This is actually a fairly radical pro-vaccination position, given that Fiorina did not make an allowance for religious exemption in her statement.
As the National Council of State Legislatures notes, almost all states allow exemptions for religious reasons, and 20 allow for exemptions based on philosophical grounds. Two of those, California and Vermont, have withdrawn their philosophical exemption effective next summer.
It is also not clear whether favoring exemptions is, as Rappeport writes, in the GOP candidate mainstream. In an overview of the GOP candidates, Talking Points Memo makes clear that the norm among leading contenders, including Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz is to support vaccination laws.
Current frontrunner Donald Trump is hard to read. He supports vaccination, he says, but also opposes mass vaccination of small children. In September, he tweeted, “No more massive injections. Tiny children are not horses — one vaccine at a time.”
Chris Christie stirred up a firestorm earlier this year when he called for a “measure of choice” for parents and for “balance,” which seems to suggest something close to both the Fiorina and Trump positions. Christie later clarified, as the Washington Post reported, that communicable diseases like measles are not what he meant when he referred to choice and balance.
Trump, Christie and Fiorina all seem to be making distinctions that may be lost in the commotion of campaign media coverage. None of the three have actually suggested that children who have not been vaccinated for communicable and dangerous illnesses should not be required to do so before attending public schools.