Tuesday, when asked by Buzzfeed about Buttigieg’s stance on vaccination, his campaign responded with an answer that went over like a lead balloon (boldface mine):
“The law of the land for more than a century has been that states may enforce mandatory vaccination for public safety to prevent the spread of a dangerous disease. Pete does support some exceptions, except during a public health emergency to prevent an outbreak,” a spokesperson for the South Bend, Indiana, mayor told BuzzFeed News.
In particular, Buttigieg believes exemptions are appropriate for people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. Personal belief and religious exemptions should only be allowed in states that aren’t facing a public health crisis and where herd immunity rates of vaccination are maintained.
“These exemptions include medical exemptions in all cases (as in cases where it is unsafe for the individual to get vaccinated), and personal/religious exemptions if states can maintain local herd immunity and there is no public health crisis,” the spokesperson said.
This did not go over well. Having parents whose immunocompromised kids are being treated for cancer begging you to reconsider your opinion is never a good look, so this then happened Wednesday morning:
After this article was published, the campaign added in a “clarifying statement” early Wednesday that Buttigieg only supported medical exemptions to vaccinations.
“Pete believes vaccines are safe and effective and are necessary to maintaining public health,” the spokesperson said. “There is no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, and he believes children should be immunized to protect their health. He is aware that in most states the law provides for some kinds of exemptions. He believes only medical exemptions should be allowed.”
Oops. What’s disturbing about this is the original Buttigieg campaign response, as it exemplifies the typical New Democrat response–which will be familiar to anyone who suffered through politics in the 90s and aughts.
First, let’s deal with this from a policy perspective. It sounds reasonable, but is actually very bad policy. As we tried to explain to his fellow Hoosier Mike Pence, the time to deal with an outbreak is before it starts. In other words, don’t create conditions where it is possible for vaccination rates to dip to the level where herd immunity can be weakened (or disappear).
Then there’s the reality of how immunization rates work. The unvaccinated are rarely distributed evenly. That 95% vaccination rate doesn’t mean at every school, for example, that 98% percent of students are vaccinated. Typically, it means that many schools are near 100%, while other schools are dangerously low (a subset of private schools seem, erm, susceptible to this). To maintain adequate vaccination, we would need to have a ‘state of emergency’ all the time, which is no difference in reality from a mandate (we’ll return to this point). Finally, as New Democrats are wont to do, Buttigieg raises a non-issue: no vaccinate advocates, no matter how fanatical or uncompromising, want to vaccinate people who would become ill were they to be vaccinated. That’s why it’s so important that the rest of us kick in and do our part. So that’s a complete non-issue.
Onto the politics. As happened, his waffling stance made vaccination supporters very angry. It probably did nothing to woo over the committed anti-vaxxers either: they’re clever enough to realize that ‘herd immunity clause’ is an out (besides, many of them don’t believe in herd immunity). In other words, equivocating to the middle ground simply alienated both sides, including the side he ultimately wound up supporting.
Again, for anyone who lived through the nineties and aughts, this pattern is depressingly familiar, except back then, there was greed and racism thrown into the mix*.
I don’t want to make too much of this, but this New Democrat-style fumble does not speak well of his campaign’s instincts–though it would make him and Joe Biden kindred spirits…
Definitely not #FeelingTheButt right now.
*Many of the New Democratic policies were pretty damn racist–and that’s not in hindsight, we knew that back then.