It’s a time-honored politico’s shtick to remind voters of their better selves. And all but the timid hopefuls frequently entreat the public to not let their bad habits rob them of their divine origin.
Former Vice President Joe Biden tried that line in a recent interview for NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, calling for more Americans to be vaccinated so that America’s children would grow up disease-free. He reminded Todd that he had been vaccinated, but reminded the audience that too many others had not, at least not in all demographic groups.
“Kids in households where the parents aren’t vaccinated — kids at school, kids who have to go to day care — are at risk,” he said.
Biden also said that children can begin to believe that their own beliefs can be validated by rejecting the vaccine he or she needs.
“Imagine if people began to believe that their own beliefs trump all scientific evidence,” he added.
Biden made a special point to note that no one-to-one correlation exists between the number of vaccinations a child receives and his or her health. But, as his last two opponents (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) pointed out, one cannot be insulated from the fact that the level of perceived mistrust that there is of vaccines among certain groups of Americans is more or less inescapable.
Biden wasn’t shy about calling for increasing immunization rates.
“The statistic I believe is critical,” he said. “It’s that 62 percent of our children are immunized. Not just when they’re immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, measles and pertussis, but it’s also polio, whooping cough, measles, whooping cough, rotavirus, chicken pox, hepatitis B. That’s not right.”
The challenges remain, however. Some 52 percent of those 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, had not received all three doses of a well-known polio vaccine, compared to the vaccination rate for those with that age group of 55 percent. Similarly, a Pew survey from September found that only 84 percent of US adults had received all of the recommended vaccines, compared to an overall immunization rate of 86 percent.
Biden offered nothing new in his Meet the Press appearance. His predecessor, former Secretary of State Clinton, had attempted similar sorts of points and they were mostly ignored.
A presidential hopeful can promote and promote efforts that show the public the value of vaccinations, but ultimately, people are going to need to be convinced of the value of getting them. And they may not believe that, not by virtue of the messenger, but because, too often, the merits of immunization are absent from parents’ decisions.
So, in exchange for commending Biden for mentioning the possibility of vaccinating more people, the public needs to continue to support efforts to immunize the people they don’t want to vaccinate, not just the people they believe they are doing what is best for.