Retired neurosurgeon and presidential hopeful Ben Carson attempted Sunday to diffuse the vaccination debate that has gripped the political scene, saying there’s no reason to turn vaccines for measles and other diseases into a partisan issue.
Mr. Carson, a star in conservative circles, said scientists have debunked skeptics who warn of debilitating side effects from vaccines, and parents who forgo vaccinations are eroding the herd immunity that has lulled them into complacency.
“We’ve had such an effective vaccination program that you’re not seeing the diseases,” Mr. Carson told “Fox News Sunday.”
A measles outbreak traced to Disneyland in California has resulted in at least 150 cases, and the political wildfire around whether parents must vaccinate their children is spreading just as quickly. Some Republican presidential hopefuls struggled with the issue last week, prompting other contenders to quickly tout the merits of vaccines.
Meanwhile, government disease specialists said the benefits of vaccination far outweigh side effects that typically amount to a sore arm or slight fever.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said measles is a disease “that’s entirely preventable.”
He accused the anti-vaccine crowd of putting the youngest Americans at risk, as toddlers cannot get the shot until they reach their first birthday.
“What we’re talking about are outbreaks among vulnerable people,” said Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top disease fighter.
The situation has renewed debate about whether governments and school districts have done enough to stamp out diseases. On Friday the University of California system announced that, starting in 2017, incoming students must be vaccinated against measles and other diseases.
The intersection between medical science and government mandates tripped up prominent politicians last week.
Early in the week, Sen. Rand Paul said vaccines for the most part should be voluntary, and that he has heard of “tragic cases” of normal children who wound up with mental disorders after vaccination.
The Kentucky Republican then clarified his comments, saying he thinks everyone should be encouraged to get vaccines and that his position doesn’t really differ from that of President Obama, who said there’s no reason not to get the shots.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said during an overseas trip to England last week that he had vaccinated his children, but that government should strike a balance so parents have a say in the issue.
His office later clarified that “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”
President Obama and leading 2016 contenders, such as Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, have said parents should vaccinate their children.
In terms of pure politics, the parties seem to have canceled each other out on the vaccine issue.
Although potential GOP candidates may have fumbled the issue, Mr. Carson noted that vaccination doubters tend to come from liberal enclaves in California.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” he said.
He said ineffective messaging is partly to blame for the confusion. Vaccination doubters were able to quickly circulate their findings years ago, he said, yet actual scientific data has been slow to catch up.
“The problem is we have not disseminated the information widely to people,” said Mr. Carson, who hinted he’ll formally announce by May whether he will run for president.