As the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up, leading candidates have been asked to state their views on a wide range of issues, including public health. On the heels of one of the largest measles outbreaks in years, the conversation about the importance of vaccines and the government’s role in their implementation has risen to the forefront of national conversation. The primary question: should the government mandate that all children receive vaccines, and do parents maintain the right to opt out of vaccines for their children? Given the host of scientific evidence that raises real concerns about the safety of these vaccines, answering this question has proven complex.
Four of the leading Republican presidential nominees have already voiced their opinions about vaccines and each brings to the table a unique perspective.
On the subject of vaccines, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and sole female Republican presidential nominee Carly Fiorina has stated that, “Parents have to make choices for their family and their kids,” insinuating that the government does not in fact retain the right to mandate vaccination. However, Fiorina also acknowledges that it’s difficult to make a blanket statement about vaccines, given that not all vaccines should be viewed in the same light. For example, she notes that parents shouldn’t be forced to have their daughters receive an HPV vaccine at age 11, but that getting a vaccine for the measles makes more sense given that the disease is highly communicable. Ultimately, Fiorina believes that it remains a parent’s choice whether or not their children are vaccinated—though she says school districts are well within their rights to prevent unvaccinated students from attending school—and that religious liberties should not be threatened by any vaccine mandate.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul found himself in hot water for his views on vaccines, after stating that he was familiar with children who had been perfectly healthy before a vaccine, yet demonstrated autistic symptoms after administration. The media took Paul to task for these comments and he subsequently went on the defensive by clarifying his remarks. Paul now argues that he believes vaccination as a concept is a good idea; both he and his children have been vaccinated. He supports parental choice, but Paul is also quoted as stating that, “I think the science is clear that if you compare the risks of taking a vaccine to the ill effects of taking a vaccine, [the benefits of vaccination] are overwhelming.
Rising Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has taken a more definitive stance on vaccines, stating he believes there to be a direct link between vaccines and the rising rate of autism. This view has not been embraced by the mainstream media, even in the face of compelling research linking vaccines containing harmful toxins like mercury to an increased risk for autism. Trump specifically points out that the quantity and timing of vaccines administered to infants are both alarming and dangerous. Trump noted in an earlier interview that he elected to have his own son receive vaccines on a much more protracted timeline to avoid administration of multiple vaccines at once, which he sees as the primary reason vaccines are unsafe. He has not stated whether vaccines should be mandatory for school attendance.
Dr. Ben Carson
Trailing a close second to Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson has endorsed mandatory vaccinations and eschews any link between vaccines and autism. He believes vaccines should be mandatory for school attendance. He recently softened that viewpoint in the September 16 Presidential Debate to support parents right to choose whether to get “new” vaccines such as HPV vaccines. He also stated that the “vaccine schedule should be adjusted so kids are not given such a big load in such a short period of time.”
Clearly, the field of Republican presidential candidates maintains varying views about vaccines and their risk to recipients. Regardless of the nominee, the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute and the other organizations that promote vaccine research and safety can only hope that the candidate considers the full breadth of scientific evidence at hand.