CNN hosted the 2nd Republican presidential debate, and unfortunately, the topic of vaccines came up. Donald Trump had previously suggested that vaccines can cause autism. When asked about this he responded, “You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump—I mean, it looks just like it is meant for a horse, not for a child, and we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2-years-old, 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.”
He went on to say that he's not against vaccines, but just thinks the same total dose should be given in smaller doses and spaced out more.
Donald Trump is not a doctor, so why is he giving medical advice? Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, said, “We have extremely well-documented proof that there's no autism association with vaccinations. But it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time.” Although he at least discredited the theory that vaccines cause autism, he agreed with an alternative dosing schedule. Fellow debater Senator Rand Paul, who is also an ophthalmologist, said, “I'm all for vaccines, but I'm also for freedom. I'm also concerned with how they're bunched up.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement saying there is no alternative dosing regimen. Based on lots of scientific literature and much expert opinion, the current schedule was designed to optimize benefit versus risk. Delaying vaccinations increases the risk that children will catch the disease before they have been protected. It's also psychologically more traumatic. Studies have shown that a child is just as traumatized if they get 1 shot or 3 shots at one visit, but 3 visits with a shot at each 1 is worse than one visit where they get 3 shots. Spacing out the vaccines also means more cost, and more exposure to sick kids each time they are brought for a vaccination.
So where did this idea of spacing out vaccines come from? Pediatrician Dr. Sears published “The Vaccine Book” in 2007 that proposed alternative vaccination schedules. But that was just his opinion, and was not based on studies to show that it's safe and effective.
The belief that vaccines can cause autism came from a study published in 1998, that has since been retracted because it was found to be based on fraudulent data. Some people still choose to believe it.
You might argue that spacing out the vaccines is better than nothing. That's true, however that's like saying that only wearing seat belts every other day is better than nothing. That's true, but it's still much better to use it the way you're supposed to.
Republicans don't have good record when it comes to vaccines. Four years ago Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry for mandating that young women get HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine. He later backed down. That vaccine prevents women from getting cervical cancer.
I may not agree with politicians when it comes to issues regarding such things as immigration, taxation, use of the military, domestic spying, or abortion, but those are legitimate areas for politicians to debate and legislate. They can even debate the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), but they should stay out of the science of medicine. That includes politicians who happen to be physicians, unless they are stating medical facts, rather than pandering to what their constituents want to hear.
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington. This post originally appeared on his blog, World's Best Site.