(AP/Mark J. Terrill)

Donald Trump's dangerous ignorance on vaccines and autism: Anti-vaxxers won, science lost at last night's GOP debate

Rand Paul chimed in with knee-jerk emotions about "bunching up" and freedom, and even Ben Carson didn't really help


Mary Elizabeth Williams
September 17, 2015 7:29PM (UTC)

My God, how much more evidence that Donald Trump literally has no idea what he's talking about does America need? We could — and in fact, pretty much do — present you with around the clock coverage of every ludicrous and wrong he says. But let's now just stick to singling out Wednesday's debate as another moment that Trump, the anti-vaxxer, got a chance to shine.

"Autism has become an epidemic," he told the audience. "It has gotten totally out of control." The comments were not surprising; Trump's record of skepticism on vaccinations is quite clear. Back in 2012, he tweeted that "A study says @Autism is out of control -- a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations immediately. Space out small individual shots -- small babies can't handle massive doses. Get smart -- and fast --before it is too late."

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Trump was no doubt citing a then-recently released CDC report that did indeed show a sharp spike in autism diagnoses. It did not mention the word "vaccine" once. And it's worth noting that across the world, the parameters for diagnosis have changed and broadened over the past several years.

Last year, Trump was at it again, tweeting, "Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!" A few months later, he declared, "I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied. Save our children & their future…. I'm not against vaccinations for your children, I'm against them in 1 massive dose. Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!"

But it wasn't just Trump who distinguished himself on the whole distancing from scientific evidence thing on Wednesday. When moderator Jake Tapper asked Ben Carson — a pediatric neurosurgeon, may we remind you — about Trump's position on vaccines, Carson understatedly replied, "There have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism….Vaccines are very important. Certain ones. The ones that would prevent death or crippling. There are others, there are a multitude of vaccines which probably don't fit in that category, and there should be some discretion in those cases. But, you know, a lot of this is pushed by big government."

Trump then leapt into the fray, reiterating that "Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control. I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby, and I've seen it. I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over two or three years. Same exact amount. But you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump, I mean it looks just like, it's made for a horse, not for a child. And we've had so many instances. People that work for me. Just the other day — two years old, two and a half years old, the child, a 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."

Carson then chimed in to add, "We have extremely well-documented proof that there's no autism associated with vaccinations. But it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time." Then Rand Paul jumped in with the brilliant, "I'm all for vaccines. But I'm also for freedom." He added, "I'm also a little concerned about how they're bunched up. My kids had all of their vaccines, and even if the science doesn't say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least."

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Yeah, we're Americans! "Science" is not the boss of us!

In case you're wondering, just this past spring yet another compelling and reliable source — the Journal of American Medicine — found that "Receipt of the MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD [autism spectrum disorder], regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD." The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics support current vaccine safety guidelines. And let's remember that the most famed proponent of the autism-vaccine link, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, later had his study declared an "elaborate fraud."

Of course every child is unique and there are compelling reasons — like cancer treatment — to delay or change the vaccination schedule. But if you want to talk about objective truths, Trump's rather light on them, again.

It's well-timed that on the same day that a bunch of clowns were spouting nonsense about freedom of choice when it comes to science, the White House was issuing an invitation to Texas student Ahmed Mohamed to come visit for astronomy night. As DJ Patil, the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said, "I’m so proud to see people across the country standing up for the innovation and intellectual curiosity that Ahmed has shown." Science is beautiful. Facts and data are amazing. We deserve leadership that embraces them. But don't expect Donald Trump to understand that.

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Anti Vaccine Movement Ben Carson Donald Trump Rand Paul

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