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Monday, September 21, 2015

Autism and Presidential Politics

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in campaigns.

The Chicago Tribune editorializes:
Which candidate for president made the following statement about childhood inoculations? "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines."

Or this one? "It's indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what's causing it. And we go back and forth and there's strong evidence that indicates that it's got to do with a preservative in vaccines."

If you answered Donald Trump, nice try, but wrong. The first one was made by Barack Obama when he ran in 2008. The second came from his opponent, John McCain.

While running for president in 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., raised similar doubts about the HPV vaccine, recalling a woman who approached her after a debate. "She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine," Bachmann said.

Maybe it's time for political parties to require a science course for anyone who wants their nomination. Misinformation about vaccines has become a stubborn, recurring feature of presidential campaigns.
Dr. Marc Siegel writes at Slate that Ben Carson and Rand Paul mildly disagreed with Trump:
Unfortunately, Carson went on to promote another fear-driven myth about vaccines. He added that “we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time.” There is not a shred of scientific evidence to back this up. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and another candidate on the stage, echoed his fellow doctor’s concerns about bunching vaccines.

Both of these physicians have had great accomplishments in the medical world, Carson as a pioneer neurosurgeon and Paul as a successful eye surgeon. As a fellow physician it was unsettling to me to see them speculating wildly outside their areas of expertise, especially in the wake of Trump’s dangerous comments. They should have known better.

Scientists continually reassess whether a contagious disease is enough of a threat to prompt a national vaccination campaign. Vaccines and the way they are scheduled and bunched are rigorously tested for safety and efficacy. In fact, immunizations are some of the most-tested medical interventions in use today.

There is also simply no evidence that too many vaccines over-stimulate the immune system, a common fear among parents. In fact, young children encounter thousands of far more powerful immune-stimulating microbes in between vaccinations than during them.