Ciattarelli calls for expanded vaccine exemptions, ‘parental rights’ ombudsman

07/26/2021 

Politico

“I believe we now need an ombudsman — an advocate — who’s a member of my administration that will work in the Department of Health and their only responsibility will be to protect parental rights,” Jack Ciattarelli said. 

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New Jersey’s Republican gubernatorial candidate told a group of anti-vaccine activists that, if elected, he would expand exemptions that allow public school students to skip immunizations and create a state ombudsman to deal with “parental choice” issues, including vaccines.

“I believe we now need an ombudsman — an advocate — who’s a member of my administration that will work in the Department of Health and their only responsibility will be to protect parental rights,” Jack Ciattarelli said during a Facebook Live interview Friday with members of NJ Public Health Innovation PAC.

The group endorsed Ciattarelli shortly after he won the Republican primary in June.

Ciattarelli is taking a more hard line position on vaccinations even as prominent Republicans nationally — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — have begun urging constituents to get vaccinated for Covid-19. Many politicians, mostly on the right, have embraced or tiptoed around anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that increasingly gained currency among their constituents.

Ciattarelli, a former New Jersey state lawmaker who developed a reputation as a moderate, has also promoted vaccines, announcing that he got his first Covid shot in April, in a press release accompanied by photos.

Some members of the NJ Public Health Innovation PAC were involved in Statehouse protests almost two years ago that helped derail legislation that would have eliminated the religious exemption to vaccination requirements for public school children.

The group heavily promoted the failed state Senate candidacy of Assemblymember Jamel Holley (D-Union), who has aired false conspiracy theories about vaccines, and one of the group’s leaders has spoken at an event with high-profile anti-vaccination advocates.

Many parents who harbor doubts about the efficacy and safety of vaccines that are not backed up by scientific studies have used the religious exemption as an end-run around the requirements for public school students.

Ciattarelli said that as governor he would veto the bill on religious exemptions if given the chance, and understands parents are wrongly claiming the religious exemption.

“I do think there’s some people who use the religious exemption wrongly just because they don’t want to be forced to get their children vaccinated,” Ciattarelli told NJ Public Health Innovation on Friday. “So we want to give them another avenue.”

Polls have shown many Republican voters are hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccine, and parts of the country with lower vaccination rates are facing a worsening Covid crisis this summer than states with higher rates.

New Jersey, a deep blue state that was hit especially hard in the early stages of the pandemic, has the eighth highest percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times. It ranks 30th per-capita in new cases and 36th in hospitalizations.

The nation has also seen the reemergence of measles outbreaks that has coincided with the growth of the anti-vaccine movement.

Democratic State Committee spokesperson Phil Swibinski said in a statement that Ciattarelli was appealing to “the most extreme fringes of his base.”

“This would open the floodgates for more anti-science disinformation and make all our kids less safe, potentially even allowing dangerous diseases like measles and the mumps to re-emerge here as they have in other states with large anti-vax contingencies,” Swibinski said.

Stami Williams, a spokesperson for the Ciattarelli campaign, said in an email that Ciattarelli “has been very public about himself getting vaccinated and encouraging others to do so, but he also supports parental and personal choice as it pertains to healthcare decisions."

Although Ciattarelli said the ombudsman would be within the Department of Health, he said the position could also deal with school curriculum he believes “is harmful and dangerous to our children.”

Ciattarelli made headlines recently for telling supporters that he would roll back a New Jersey law that mandates teaching about the societal contributions of LGBTQ people while also saying “we’re not teaching sodomy in 6th grade.” He later said he was referring to unrelated curriculum requirements that require students to have been taught about vaginal, anal and oral sex by eighth grade.

Ciattarelli during his campaign has hit on some conservative themes in addition to his statements on vaccines and curriculum. For instance, he has called for loosening the state's strict gun control laws and increasing restrictions on abortion.

While there’s a large contingent of anti-vaccination activists in New Jersey, the PAC Ciattarelli spoke to is not in itself a formidable force in New Jersey politics. As of the end of June, it had raised just shy of $43,000 since its founding in December 2020 and had about $28,000 in the bank, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-07-27 02:21:58 -0700