A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in this Jan. 10, 2013 file photo.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

GOP moves a little further away from ‘party of health care’ label


For the most part, there are no significant political differences among vaccination opponents. As Politico reported last night, however, there’s an increasingly obvious political difference when it comes to policymakers working on the issue.

Most Republicans are rejecting Democrat-led state bills to tighten childhood immunization laws in the midst of the worst measles outbreak in two decades, alarming public health experts who fear the nation could become as divided over vaccines as it is over global warming.

Democrats in six states – Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, New York and Maine – have authored or co-sponsored bills to make it harder for parents to avoid vaccinating their school-age children, and mostly faced GOP opposition. Meanwhile in West Virginia and Mississippi, states with some of the nation’s strictest vaccination laws, Republican lawmakers have introduced measures to expand vaccine exemptions, although it’s not yet clear how much traction they have.

In the not-too-distant past, policymakers working on stopping the spread of preventable infectious diseases wouldn’t have been overly concerned with partisan political splits. Officials would’ve simply followed the science, consulted with experts, prioritized public health, and approved appropriate policies.

But in 2019, it appears more than a few GOP officials have adopted their own unique posture on the issue.

Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted in recent weeks that the Republican Party is well on its way to becoming the “party of health care.” Perhaps that was premature.

Indeed, before becoming president, Trump peddled bizarre theories about vaccinations, making the public discussion even more difficult. Politico’s report added:

[O]fficials worry they are “three Trump tweets away” from an even more polarized situation, noted MIT political scientist Adam Berinsky, who has studied communication around politicized public health and scientific issues.

In Texas, the Tea Party and related groups created an anti-vax PAC in 2015. It hasn’t yet gotten its chosen candidates elected, but the very existence of a vaccine-oriented political action committee shows the political salience is growing. Influential voices on the right, including Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, have all raised suspicions about vaccines.

“There’s a credulity gap between the parties in regard to science that wasn’t there 25 years ago,” Berinsky said.

If Republicans want to be the “party of health care,” they can start acting like it.