I wasn’t informed until yesterday that believing vaccines are a bad idea and cause autism (or, if you’re Michele Bachmann, mental retardation. You know, basically the same thing.) was a prerequisite for supporting the TEA Party. Apparently, judging by the applause Bachmann received from a purportedly TEA Party audience for defending INNOCENT LITTLE TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRLS from the horror of being vaccinated against cancer, I missed a memo somewhere. Sarah Palin piled on the attack as well, and I am repeatedly assured by her followers that whatever Sarah Palin thinks is the Law in TEA Party land. It turns out, Sarah Palin is or at least was an anti-vaccination theorist herself. According to emails from 2008 (via Twitter), Sarah Palin wrote in response to the Department of Education’s announcement of a new vaccination policy (including vaccinations for diptheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis, measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and rubella):

pls coordinate with Lt. Governor’s office as they release this, as we don’t have to follow up and explain it’s Bd of Ed’s call.  If asked, tho, u can let folks know I would not propose govt mandating anything like shots for our kids.”

First of all, it deserves to be noted (as is clear from the context of the entire email exchange) that the Most Courageous Politician who Ever Lived™, when confronted with a policy under her Administration’s ambit, bravely passed the buck to her underlings while attempting to assauge anti-vaccine activists by letting them know that she was one of them. Second, the connection between autism and thimerosal was always pretty tenous and given the immensely salutary effect on the public health of mandatory vaccination against the highly contagious diseases listed above, only a reckless person would have based actual public policy on it. That said, these emails were written before the thimerosal-causes-autism claim had been completely debunked to the point that the original authors of the study had withrdawn and refudiated it (SWIDT?). (NB: The invaluable Ace of Spades has an excellent history of the controversy including the fraudulent lawsuit industry that has arisen out of it, which should be read in its entirety.) Thus, it remains an open question as to whether Sarah Palin continues to believe this tripe – a question which Sarah Palin should be asked at the next opportunity.

I guess as a broader thing, I would like to know if I have to believe that states don’t have the right to create herd immunity against communicable diseases through mandatory vaccinations as a condition of participation in the public education system in order to be a “true conservative”? Alternately, do I have to believe that parents have the right to send their unvaccinated kids to school with mine because of unfounded and/or bogus claims about vaccines causing autism or hysteria about the very rare legitimate complications caused by vaccines?

I grok that we’re all about revisiting policies that have been uncontroversial for decades these days, but this isn’t one rock I’m particularly interested in turning over.

Whatever one thinks about the Gardasil issue specifically (and I get that there are well founded concerns, although I find myself pretty well in line with my RedState colleague streiff on this issue), if you don’t get that mandatory vaccines have vastly improved the health and quality of life in America, you don’t deserve to be a mid-level functionary in a State Health/Education Department, much less in charge of one. Much less in charge of the entire United States Executive Branch. And if you find it credible that a 12-year-old developed late-onset mental retardation as a result of a Gardasil injection – credible enough to repeat the allegation on national television and then again on the Sean Hannity show (I am told) – you don’t really even deserve to be one of the 435 people who gets to contribute to the creation of legislation that might one day influence health policy in America.