Politicians Debating Vaccines

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Asking about vaccines isn't just about mainstream media hitting politicians with gotcha questions.

It's important to know what politicians think about immunizations. In addition to an occasional sound bite, politicians have even more influence on people getting vaccinated through policies that affect access to vaccines, including those that increase or break down barriers to vaccination.

It is important to remember that it was President Jimmy Carter's National Childhood Immunization Initiative in 1977, which reached its goal of getting at least 90% of children immunized, that helped greatly decrease measles outbreaks in the 1980s. After he left office, federal support for immunizations and vaccination coverage assessment activities dropped, vaccine rates decreased, and we had outbreaks in the late 1990s. It took President George H W Bush's immunization action plan in 1991 to once again raise immunization levels. Continued under President Bill Clinton's Childhood Immunization Initiative in 1993, which helped preschool age children reach at least 90% immunization rates, we eventually eliminated measles in the United States.

Would a President who didn't fully support vaccines have been able to make the same decisions? If JFK had thought that we should cut down on the number of vaccines or spread them out over a longer period of time, would he have signed the Vaccination Assistance Act in 1962?

Would Eisenhower have signed the Polio Vaccination Assistance Act in 1955 if he thought that vaccines caused autism?

Fortunately, most of the politicians who have been running for President in 2016 make very good points about vaccines, including:

  • Former Governor Mike Huckabee - remembers that the polio vaccine has saved billions of dollars
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - #VaccinesWork
  • US Senator Bernie Sanders - vaccines do not cause autism
  • Governor John Kasich - you have to get vaccinated
  • US Senator Marco Rubio - all children in America should be vaccinated
  • Former Governor Jeb Bush - it's a parent's responsibility to make sure their kids are vaccinated and protected
  • Governor Bobby Jindahl - urges parents to get every vaccine
  • Former US Senator Rick Santorum - vaccines provide an overwhelming benefit
  • US Senator Lindsay Graham - urges Americans to vaccinate their kids
  • Former Governor George Pataki - vaccinations are an important public health policy

Some have made rather bad points about vaccines, though:

  • US Senator Ted Cruz - kids should be vaccinated, but religion
  • Governor Scott Walker - it should be left up to the states
  • Governor Chris Christie - vaccines are important, but there is a balancing act because 'not every vaccine is created equal'
  • Carly Fiorina - "I think vaccinating for measles makes a lot of sense," but for other diseases???

And a few have made points that can only be characterized as downright ugly:

  • Donald Trump - wrongly suggests that vaccines are associated with autism and that vaccines should be spaced out over a longer period of time
  • Ben Carson - wrongly suggests that only certain vaccines are important and that we give too many vaccines in too short a time
  • US Senator Ran Paul - concerned that vaccines are 'bunched up' and wrongly suggests that only certain vaccines are important

Donald Trump on Vaccines

Donald Trump is in favor of spacing out vaccines.
Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that vaccines are linked to autism. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Donald Trump's views on vaccines are well known. In fact, it is easy to believe that if he hadn't been so vocal about the topic in the past, then this wouldn't have been such a big political issue this year.

At the second GOP debate, Trump stated that:

"Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.

I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in -- and I've seen it -- and I've seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time.

Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump -- I mean, it looks just like it's meant for a horse, not for a child, and we've had so many instances, people that work for me.

Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

I only say it's not -- I'm in favor of vaccines, do them over a longer period of time, same amount."

"I think -- and I think you're going to have -- I think you're going to see a big impact on autism."

Of course, it has been shown that vaccines don't cause autism. And we know that delaying vaccines simply puts kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

Hillary Clinton Tweets that #VaccinesWork

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton. Photo by Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton recently tweeted that:

The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest

Mike Huckabee on the Cost Effectiveness of Vaccines

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee. Photo by Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"I think we need to remember that there are maybe some controversies about autism, but there is no controversy about the things that are really driving the medical costs in this country.

And I would really believe that the next president ought to declare a war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's because those are the four things that are causing the greatest level of cost.

John Kennedy said, "we'll go to the moon in a decade and bring a man back," and we did it. I grew up in the '50s. I remember the polio vaccine. We saved billions of dollars since that time because we haven't had to treat for polio.

Why doesn't this country focus on cures rather than treatment? Why don't we put a definitive focus scientifically on finding the cure for cancer, for heart disease, for diabetes and for Alzheimer's, a disease alone that will cost us --"

Ben Carson's Pants on Fire Vaccine Statements

Ben Carson
Ben Carson. Photo by Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ben Carson is a retired pediatric neurosurgeon. His training as a surgeon didn't really seem to give him any extra help in answering questions about vaccines, though.

While Ben Carson refuted Donald Trump's claims that vaccines cause autism, saying that there is "extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations," he shared other misinformation about vaccines.

"This was something that was spread widely 15 or 20 years ago, and it has not been adequately, you know, revealed to the public what's actually going on. Vaccines are very important. Certain ones. The ones that would prevent death or crippling," he said. "There are others, a multitude of vaccines which probably don't fit in that category and there should be some discretion in those cases. But, you know, a lot of this is -- is -- is pushed by big government."

He also went on to say that "It is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time. And a lot of pediatricians now recognize that, and I think are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done, and I think that’s appropriate."

This got a 'pants on fire' rating from PoltiFact.

In fact, instead of cutting down on immunizations, in the wake of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years, most pediatricians are working hard to make sure their children are vaccinated and protected.

Sandra G. Hassink, MD, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that "Advocacy of delayed or alternative immunization schedules increases the risks to all children. The AAP strongly urges all members to follow the approved immunization schedule and to help educate families about the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines."

Pandering pediatricians, such as Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. Jay Gordon, and other "disease-friendly" pediatricians, who push non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules, are a minority.

Bernie Sanders on Vaccines and Autism

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

"Evidence is overwhelming that vaccines do not cause autism."

John Kasich States that You Have to Get Vaccinated

John Kasich
John Kasich. Photo by Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

During a visit to the University of Dayton, when asked about vaccines, Governor John Kasich stated that:

"You have to get vaccinated," Kasich said. "This is not a choice. Are you kidding me? I mean, my kids are gonna go to school I want to make sure that they get vaccinated for those basic things that protect all of us."

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the residents of his state have not been following his advice. Historically, Ohio has had some of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States. Not surprisingly, that did change after two recent outbreaks of measles and mumps in Ohio. After these outbreaks, 95% of toddlers in Ohio had at least one dose of MMR vs. just 86% before.

Gov. Kasich also recently signed a law requiring students to get a meningococcal vaccine at ages 11-12 years, with a booster at age 16 years. Ohio joins at least 26 other states with similar vaccine mandates to attend school.

Marco Rubio on Vaccines and Autism

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio. Photo by Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"Absolutely, all children in America should be vaccinated," the Florida Republicans told reporters Tuesday. "Unless their immune (system is) suppressed, obviously, for medical exceptions, but I believe that all children, as is the law in most states in this country, before they can even attend school, have to be vaccinated for a certain panel."

Rubio also responded to those who claim that vaccines are linked to autism, saying that,"There is absolutely no medical science or data what so ever that links those vaccinations to onset of autism or anything of that nature."

Jeb Bush on Parent's Responsibility to Vaccinate Their Children

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush. Photo by Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Answering questions at the Detroit Economic Club, Jeb Bush said that "Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated."

He went on to say that "And I think it's better just to say parents have a responsibility to make sure their children are protected."

Governor Bobby Jindal States that Vaccinations are Important

Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Governor Bobby Jindal issued a statement from his office reinforcing that vaccines are safe and important:

“I urge all parents to get their kids vaccinated. Vaccinations are required for children to attend public school and pre-K. Just about every private school requires vaccinations. Here in Louisiana, we actively encourage vaccinations and help low-income families vaccinate their children."

“I worked in health care for a long time. I have no reservations about whether or not it is a good idea and desirable for all children to be vaccinated. There is a lot of fear mongering out there on this. I think it is irresponsible for leaders to undermine the public’s confidence in vaccinations that have been tested and proven to protect public health. Science supports them and they keep our children safe from potentially deadly but preventable diseases. Personally, I would not send my kids to a school that did not require vaccinations. Vaccinations are important. I urge every parent to get them. Every one.”

Ted Cruz on Religion and Vaccines

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz. Photo by Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Most states include an exception clause for good faith religious convictions, and that’s an appropriate judgment for the states to make,” he said. “But on the question of whether kids should be vaccinated, the answer is obvious and there’s widespread agreement: Of course they should.”

Ted Cruz leaves out the fact that few religions are actually against vaccines.

Gov Scott Walker on Vaccines

Scott Walker
Scott Walker. Photo by Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

"I think it's an issue that should be left up to the states, just like we're doing here (in Wisconsin)," he responded.

How are they doing in Wisconsin? Children have a high number of non-medical vaccine exemptions and below average vaccine rates.

Rand Paul on Freedom and Bunching Up Vaccines

Rand Paul
Rand Paul. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

“I’ve heard many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

He later clarified that he doesn't necessarily believe that vaccines cause autism, but that he has just heard parents make that claim.

“The point is that I have heard of – I mean who hasn’t ever met a child who has a profound disability and in the parents’ mind they see a connection,” Paul said. “But I didn’t allege there is a connection. I said I heard of people who believe there is a connection. I do think that vaccines are a good idea. I’ve been vaccinated. My kids have been vaccinated.”

“I was annoyed when my kids were born that they wanted them to take Hepatitis B in the neo-natal nursery, and it’s like, that’s a sexually transmitted disease,” said the Kentucky Republican, adding that he had his kids vaccinations staggered over time so they wouldn’t receive ten injections at once.

“I’m all for vaccines. But I’m also for freedom.” He added, “I’m also a little concerned about how they’re bunched up. My kids had all of their vaccines, and even if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least.”

Chris Christie on the Vaccine Balancing Act

Chris Christie
Chris Christie. Photo by Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated, and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

“Not every vaccine is created equal,” he said, “and not every disease type is as great a public-health threat as others.”

Carly Fiorina on Vaccine Choices

Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina. Photo by Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I think parents have to make choices for their family and their children.”

“I think there’s a big difference between — just in terms of the mountains of evidence we have — a vaccination for measles and a vaccination when a girl is 10 or 11 or 12 for cervical cancer just in case she’s sexually active at 11. So, I think it’s hard to make a blanket statement about it. I certainly can understand a mother’s concerns about vaccinating a 10-year-old.”

She went on, “I think vaccinating for measles makes a lot of sense. But that’s me. I do think parents have to make those choices. I mean, I got measles as a kid. We used to all get measles… I got chicken pox, I got measles, I got mumps.”

Of course, it makes even more sense to vaccinate and protect your kids with all of the vaccines that are recommended by the AAP and CDC.

Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee
Lincoln Chafee. Photo by Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If Lincoln Chafee is at all influenced by his wife, a registered nurse who helped found a free clinic to provide health care for uninsured people in Rhode Island, then you would expect him to understand that vaccines are safe and effective.

Also, Rhode Island is one of the few states that mandate the HPV vaccine for kids in secondary schools.

Rick Santorum on the Overwhelming Benefit of Vaccines for Society

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum. Photo by Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Karen Santorum, Rick's wife and a former NICU nurse said that, "My dear, dear beloved father was a pediatrician when kids were becoming paralyzed from polio and dying from mumps and measles, so all I can say is all of our children, including Bella, are vaccinated."

Rick Santorum added, "We believe in it, we know obviously there are risks, there are always risks with any medical procedure, but the overwhelming benefit for society and for children is to get those vaccines."

For some reason, the former Senator's statements don't seem to extend to the HPV vaccine, though.

Lindsay Graham Urges Americans to Vaccinate their Children

Lindsay Graham
Lindsay Graham. Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

Lindsay Graham has said that "I would urge every American to vaccinate their children and I would reject any effort to stop vaccinations until someone can show me a scientific reason to do so."

He fought back at Ran Paul's idea of freedom vaccines by saying that "Your freedom ends where my ability to raise my family safely begins."

George Pataki on Vaccines Saving Millions of Lives

George Pataki
George Pataki. Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

As a pro-science politician, it is not surprising that George Pataki is in favor of immunizations.

Often surprised that we are still talking about this issue, he told a group at Keene State College that “I thought that was resolved in Valley Force in 1778 when George Washington vaccinated his troops against smallpox.”

Pataki also called out both Trump and Fiorina for their anti-vaccine comments, saying that "Vaccinations are an important public health policy that has saved millions of lives. I have heard some outrageous and offensive things from Donald Trump, but suggesting our vaccination policy should be opt in for parents is dangerous. I'm surprised that someone who ran one of the largest technology companies in the world would even suggest that such a policy is acceptable."

Martin O’Malley

Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley. Photo by Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A spokeswoman for Martin O'Malley has stated that the former Governor of Maryland "believes it is critically important for every family to vaccinate their children. It is his hope that the American people take cues from medical professionals rather than pandering Republican presidential candidates."

As Governor, O'Malley proposed the Vaccines for Maryland Initiative, stating that "Vaccines save lives, prevent illness, and protect against natural and man-made outbreaks of lethal disease, yet, sadly, each year too many children and seniors go without vaccines."

Jill Stein

 Dr. Jill Stein has made many antivaccine statements and even after trying to walk them back, she is blowing an antivaccine dog whistle.