Republican Candidates and Their Surprising Comments About Vaccines

Paul A. Offit, MD


October 13, 2015

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

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Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Today's date is Thursday, October 1, 2015. I wanted to talk about something that occurred a little over a week ago, which was the second Republican national debate between the potential presidential candidates.

Toward the end of that debate, there was about 15 minutes in which the subject of vaccines came up, and it was pretty disappointing. Mr Trump first commented that he had a friend whose child had received vaccines; that child then had a fever and then developed autism, which, for Mr Trump, was proof that vaccines caused autism.

To Mr Trump, that one anecdote meant that vaccines must cause autism, and it shows that he was willing to deny a mountain of scientific evidence, which has already taught us that the combination measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine doesn't cause autism. Thimerosal, an ethyl mercury-containing preservative that was in a number of vaccines, doesn't cause autism, and giving many vaccines "too soon" (if you will) also doesn't cause autism. So we know that the schedule is safe.

I'm not sure why he did it; certainly, most parents don't think that vaccines cause autism. Most parents of children with autism don't think that vaccines cause autism. He was trying to be sympathetic to those parents who still believe this despite the evidence. He does a disservice to parents across this country when he proceeds to misrepresent information that could only cause parents to make bad decisions.

Next up was Ben Carson. Dr Carson was given a home-run pitch when asked to comment on what he thought about Mr Trump's comments. He correctly stated that vaccines don't cause autism, but then sort of descended into this netherworld notion that the vaccines being given to children are too bunched up, and that they should be un-bunched essentially. Again, he ignored the hundreds of concomitant use studies showing that when a vaccine is put onto the schedule, it doesn't interfere with the safety or immunogenicity profile of existing vaccines and vice versa. Existing vaccines don't interfere with the safety or immunogenicity profile of those new vaccines.

Again, this was disappointing, especially given that Ben Carson is an MD—a neurosurgeon who went to medical school, where he was at least given an education that would have allowed him to understand the wealth of information that has been published showing that his concerns also were ill-founded.

Lastly was Rand Paul [also a physician; an ophthalmologist], who commented that it should be basically a parent's right to choose. In fairness, he should have finished the sentence, which is, "a parent's right to choose whether or not their child catches and transmits a potentially fatal infection." Dr Paul has previously said such things as the government doesn't own your children; you own your children. But you don't actually own your children. You own your car, but when you have children, you have a certain responsibility, and with that responsibility, comes your job—to put your child in the safest position possible.

That's what vaccines do. That's what car seats do. It also shouldn't be a parent's choice whether to put their young child in a car seat. Car seats clearly save lives, as do vaccines. Dr Paul also let us down in the name of individual rights and freedoms. He basically was willing to throw children under the bus.

In all, it was a poor showing by these Republican presidential candidates, and hopefully they will learn from this. Hopefully the constituents who support them will educate them about this, because should any of them become President, they would be responsible for the public's health—and if this is how they think about it, then we are in trouble.

Thanks for your attention.