Last week’s Republican presidential debate had many quotable and enlightening moments. Not among them? The candidates’ breathtakingly irresponsible pandering on vaccines.
It was bad enough that Donald Trump repeated his fraudulent claim that vaccinations and autism are connected. But there should be a special place in hell’s pediatric ward, or maybe just in the annals of the American Medical Association, for physicians Rand Paul and Ben Carson, who knew Trump was repeating a falsehood, but who failed to set the record straight.
Autism isn’t caused by vaccines, or by vaccine ingredients. Diseases like polio, rubella, measles and pertussis, on the other hand, can and do kill children who aren’t immunized.
Researchers have thoroughly debunked the notorious 1998 study that once linked vaccines and autism. In fact, it was retracted after its author turned out to have falsified the data.
Nonetheless, misinformed vaccine resisters have continued to insist that some connection exists, contrary to reams of research, and to the detriment of public health across the nation.
Propaganda about vaccines and autism was one of the major drivers behind the low immunization rates in pockets of California, which in turn led to the Disneyland measles outbreak. That contagion spread to 134 people in a matter of weeks, including dozens of infants and toddlers, many of whom had to be hospitalized.
So Carson had a real opportunity to do good on Wednesday, when CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked him specifically about vaccinations.
“Donald Trump has publicly and repeatedly linked vaccines, childhood vaccines, to autism, which as you know, the medical community adamantly disputes,” Tapper said to Carson. “You’re a pediatric neurosurgeon. Should Mr. Trump stop saying this?”
No, vaccines don’t cause autism. And no, pediatricians don’t have a problem with the recommended timing. But that didn’t stop the Republican candidates, including two doctors, from spreading misinformation on public health.
The correct answer was yes, Jake, it’s a bogus claim, and no one who wants to lead the free world should be peddling it to the public.
But after wanly noting that the research shows no connection, Carson parroted the anti-vax canard that pediatricians think kids are getting too many vaccines too close together, and that the vaccine schedule should be stretched out.
Paul echoed that, proffering his usual line about being both for vaccines and “for freedom” before Trump doubled down, claiming that vaccines had turned autism into “an epidemic.”
As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics has being doing damage control all week: No, vaccines don’t cause autism. And no, pediatricians don’t have a problem with the recommended timing.
“There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule,” the group’s executive director, Dr. Karen Remley, said in a statement. “Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time.”
Trump’s reputation for careless bluster precedes him, but someone should remind Paul and Carson that, as professionals, they once promised to “first, do no harm.”