But Gov. Christie isn’t the only possible Republican presidential hopeful to have flirted with anti-vaccination conspiracy theories or happily promoted groups that do the same.
The episode is reminiscent of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination contest, when candidates piled on Rick Perry for mandating that female students in Texas receive an HPV vaccine, a stance for which he has since apologized. Rep. Michele Bachmann took the criticism of Perry even farther, baselessly charging that the vaccine causes mental retardation.
In addition, a number of top GOP presidential contenders, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have promoted Eagle Forum, the conservative organization founded by right-wing icon Phyllis Schlafly, which regularly pushes false claims about vaccines.
Eagle Forum is such a favorite of the Republican establishment that Schlafly received a lifetime achievement award — presented by Bachmann — at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.
An entire section of Eagle Forum’s website is devoted to criticizing vaccines. The group has repeatedly promoted the myth that vaccines are linked to autism, featuring articles on its website about how efforts to vaccinate children are a form of government control that jeopardizes the freedoms of parents and families.
Along with its own misinformation, Eagle Forum refers members to anti-vaccine groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which counted Rand Paul as a member for over two decades. Back in 2000, the group promoted a letter [PDF] to the Department of Health and Human Services from then-Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., which suggested that vaccines are responsible for an increase in autism diagnoses.
In 2012, Schlafly praised California parents who refused to vaccine their children, attacking a member of the state assembly who wanted to pass a law requiring parents consult with a pediatrician before they make a decision on whether their child receives a vaccination.
Schlafly’s anti-vaccine activism is unlikely to cost her any support from the Republican ranks, who are even more likely to seek support from her and her organization as the GOP nomination contest moves into high gear.