Friday, September 18, 2015

The GOP’s dangerous ‘debate’ on vaccines and autism

The CNN moderator laid out the question for Ben Carson like a baseball on a tee, just waiting to be crushed.

“Dr. Carson, Donald Trump has publicly and repeatedly linked vaccines, childhood vaccines, to autism, which, as you know, the medical community adamantly disputes,” Jake Tapper said. “You’re a pediatric neurosurgeon. Should Mr. Trump stop saying this?”

For months, Carson has touted his medical expertise while on the campaign trail. And in the weeks since the first debate, the famed surgeon has risen in the polls as a milder-mannered, more rational alternative to Trump.

Now was his chance for a home run; a big hit as swift and incisive as any surgical operation.

Instead, Carson bunted.

“Well, let me put it this way,” he began hesitantly. “There has — there have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Carson’s tepid response drew immediate criticism from doctors and pediatricians across the country.

“No Ben Carson,” Baltimore pediatrician Scott Krugman wrote on Twitter. “The answer is ‘yes’ Donald Trump is wrong. Vaccines don’t cause autism. What are you talking about?”

Yet, on an issue that could prove prickly for Republicans in the general election, Carson’s comment was actually the most forceful of the night.

Trump essentially doubled down on his past statements by again suggesting that vaccines, or concentrations of them, cause autism.
“Autism has become an epidemic,” he warned. “Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.”

Rand Paul, like Carson, a doctor, also equivocated on the issue.

“I’m all for vaccines,” he said. “But I’m also for freedom.”

The exchange, particularly Trump’s comments, drew a sharp response from autism groups.

“Despite a wealth of scientific evidence debunking any link between autism and vaccinations, tonight’s Republican primary debate featured prominent commentary from a leading candidate repeating inaccurate information suggesting a link,” the Autistic Self Advocacy Network said in a statement. “Autism is not caused by vaccines — and Autistic Americans deserve better than a political rhetoric that suggests that we would be better off dead than disabled.” [...]

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