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“I watched the debate, and I was kind of horrified when I heard these comments,” a Harvard medical professor told Yahoo Health. He wasn’t the only one. (Photo: Getty Images)
The second Republican debate was Wednesday night, but comments from candidates about vaccines and vaccination schedules are still causing an uproar.
During the debate, Donald Trump told the story of an employee whose “beautiful” baby developed a fever after getting a vaccine and, according to Trump, became autistic as a result.
“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,” fellow candidate Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, said. “I think a lot of pediatricians now recognize that and are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done.”
Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, called vaccines “one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time,” but added, “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.”
A reported 23.1 million people tuned in for this debate, making it the most watched program in CNN’s history.
And medical professionals everywhere let out a collective groan at the damage these politicians had just done to the delicate issue of vaccination.
“I watched the debate, and I was kind of horrified when I heard these comments,” Martin Hirsch, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Infectious Disease Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Yahoo Health. “A lot of misinformation is going out there and can potentially do a lot of harm.”
“These politicians are making everybody anxious about an issue and then potentially harming the general population,” Lawrence Michael Dell, MD, primary care specialist at Internal Medicine & Primary Care Specialists in West Bloomfield, Mich., tells Yahoo Health. “If the average American doesn’t look into the efficacy of vaccines, they may say ‘I’m not going to vaccinate my child’ based on these comments.”
Dell, who says the comments are based on “faulty logic” and “no scientific basis,” takes particular issue with Trump’s remark on autism.
“It’s an odd statement because the diagnosis of autism is made over months and years, not right after a child has a fever,” he says. “It’s a behavioral neurological disorder.”
Dell points out that most kids are vaccinated, which means people can technically blame any illness on vaccinations. “It’s been studied — there’s no association of vaccines with autism,” he says.
Among those studies: Research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the medical records of 96,000 children. That particular study found no relationship between children who had the MMR vaccine and autism, even among children who were at a higher risk of autism because they had older siblings with the condition.
But what about making your own vaccination schedule?
Danelle Fisher, MD, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Health that there is a “huge amount of medical evidence” that supports the safety of the vaccine schedule, which has been published by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The vaccine schedule is there for a reason,” she says.
Fisher says it can be potentially dangerous to spread out a vaccination schedule because nearly all of the vaccinations given are not 100 percent effective with the first dose. Spreading out the schedule has “no scientific merit,” she says, and can leave children more susceptible to contracting the diseases you’re trying to protect against until the schedule is complete.
As for giving smaller doses, Hirsch says there is no reason to do so and that it may even lower a vaccination’s effectiveness. “The appropriate dose that has been proven effective and safe is the one that’s chosen, licensed by the FDA, and approved by the CDC — it’s not a random decision made,” he says. “Lower doses may not produce the protection necessary, even if the same dose is given over several years.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics echoes the sentiment. In a statement released Thursday in response to the debate, the organization said, “There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer.”
Fisher stresses that it’s incredibly important for politicians to do their research before they speak on important matters like vaccinations and vaccine schedules, just like they would if they were speaking on foreign policy or environmental issues.
“When politicians speak, it is very powerful, so they should do their homework first,” she says. “In this case, no one did their homework.”