The subject of childhood vaccinations came up in the recent Republican presidential debate. Despite the fact that two of the candidates, Rand Paul and Ben Carson, are physicians, misinformation was spread about the safety of vaccines and the long-debunked idea that vaccines are connected to autism.
The subject came up when debate moderator Jake Tapper of CNN asked Ben Carson whether Donald Trump, the current front-runner in opinion polls, should stop saying that vaccines cause autism. That claim has been investigated many times and has been widely discredited.
Carson is a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, but he gave only a half-hearted defense of vaccines. "We have extremely well-documented proof that there's no autism associated with vaccination, but it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time," Carson said. Even when pressured by Tapper to answer the question, Carson just said that Trump could read about the issue of vaccine safety if he wants to."
During this portion of the debate, Trump did say he thought vaccines were important, but he also told of an unnamed child that he knew for fell ill after a vaccination and became autistic.
The idea that perhaps too many vaccines are given in too short a period of time was also cited by Paul, who is an ophthalmologist. "I'm for vaccines, but I'm also for freedom," Paul said. "Even if the science doesn't say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to be able to spread my vaccines out a little bit at the very least."
The problem here is that spreading out vaccines is not an acceptable practice, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says delaying children's immunizations just prolongs their vulnerability to potentially lethal illness.
The discussion of vaccines in a debate watched by millions was not a good thing, said journalist and pundit Ana Marie Cox. "CNN was irresponsible to even bring that up. If you even talk about the vaccine debate you give it credence," she said on the Huffington Post's "So That Happened Podcast."
In some areas of the country, the idea that vaccines are dangerous has taken root. Seattle now has a lower vaccination rate than some third-world countries. When many people fail to be immunized, the public what is called herd immunity, which protects the small number of people who cannot be immunized for any reason. This was demonstrated at the beginning of the year when a large outbreak of measles occurred in California and several other states.