Rand Paul’s Vaccine Problem

He and Chris Christie are trying to have it both ways.

"Calm down a bit here, Kelly."
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
Feb. 2, 2015, 1:22 p.m.

Sen. Rand Paul thinks vac­cines are great. But that doesn’t mean he thinks people should have to use them.

Ap­pear­ing on CN­BC on Monday, Paul doubled down on com­ments he made to Laura In­gra­ham earli­er in the day say­ing that he thinks vac­cine use is a “per­son­al de­cision.”

“I think vac­cines are one of the greatest med­ic­al break­throughs that we have,” Paul told CN­BC’s Kelly Evans Monday even­ing. “I’m a big fan and a great fan of the his­tory of the de­vel­op­ment of the small­pox vac­cine, for ex­ample. But you know, for most of our his­tory, they have been vol­un­tary. So I don’t think I’m ar­guing for any­thing out of the or­din­ary. We are ar­guing for what most of our his­tory has had.”

By mak­ing this ar­gu­ment in the midst of a measles re­sur­gence, both Paul and New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie are try­ing to have it both ways: to em­phas­ize that, no, they would nev­er dis­pute the sci­ence be­hind vac­cines, while at the same time wink­ing at anti-vaxxers who put a premi­um on hav­ing the choice to not vac­cin­ate their kids.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the over­all tone of Paul’s CN­BC in­ter­view was fairly com­bat­ive — at one point, while dis­cuss­ing something else, Paul held a fin­ger up to his mouth and lit­er­ally shushed Evans. The two main points of Paul’s ar­gu­ment per­tained to new­born safety and his­tor­ic­al pre­ced­ent — two factors that are not as rel­ev­ant to the vac­cin­a­tion de­bate as they may seem.

Here is Paul’s full reas­on­ing for why he op­poses man­dat­ory vac­cin­a­tion:

“I don’t think there is any­thing ex­traordin­ary about re­sort­ing to free­dom. I’ll give you a good ex­ample. The Hep­at­it­is B vac­cine is now giv­en to new­borns. We some­times give five and six vac­cines all at one time. I chose to have my delayed. I don’t want the gov­ern­ment telling me that I have to give my new­born Hep­at­it­is B vac­cine, which is trans­mit­ted by sexu­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease and/or blood trans­fu­sions. Do I ul­ti­mately think it is a good idea? Yeah. And so I had my staggered over sev­er­al months. I have heard of many tra­gic cases of walk­ing, talk­ing nor­mal chil­dren who wound up with pro­found men­tal dis­orders after vac­cines. I’m not ar­guing vac­cines are a bad idea. I think they are a good thing, but I think the par­ent should have some in­put. The state doesn’t own your chil­dren. Par­ents own the chil­dren. And it is an is­sue of free­dom and pub­lic health.”

The case against new­born vac­cin­a­tions is a fa­mil­i­ar ar­gu­ment, and one that Paul’s fath­er, Ron Paul, has made be­fore. In 2007, the eld­er Paul ar­gued that “bunch­ing” vac­cines to­geth­er can be dan­ger­ous for in­fants’ health.

“I think the doc­tors have got­ten to the point where they give too many, too of­ten,” Ron Paul said at the time. “They bunch ‘em to­geth­er — four, five of these vac­cines to­geth­er — and they over­whelm the im­mune sys­tem.”

That claim simply does not stand up to scru­tiny. “Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have found no link between get­ting the re­com­men­ded sched­ule of vac­cines and get­ting oth­er dis­eases later in child­hood,” Pop­u­lar Sci­ence re­por­ted. “There’s no cred­ible sci­entif­ic evid­ence that vac­cines are able to “over­load” ba­bies’ im­mune sys­tems. Though im­ma­ture, ba­bies’ sys­tems are pre­pared to handle vac­cines. They already handle nu­mer­ous vir­uses and bac­teria all around them in every­day life.”

The his­tor­ic­al po­s­i­tion­ing would hold more weight, ex­cept for the fact that the anti-vac­cin­a­tion move­ment is a his­tor­ic­al an­om­aly; op­pos­i­tion to­ward what was, un­til re­cently, a total non­is­sue in pub­lic health. And it’s not just per­son­al choice, but laws that af­fect com­pli­ance. An In­sti­tute of Medi­cine study found that in 2011, states with more le­ni­ent vac­cin­a­tion policies saw a 90 per­cent high­er in­cid­ence of whoop­ing cough.

The case of vac­cin­a­tion poses a com­pel­ling philo­soph­ic­al ques­tion for the Re­pub­lic­an Party; it per­fectly cap­tures the ten­sion between the per­son­al freedoms Re­pub­lic­ans cher­ish and the col­lect­ive good they, like any­one, want to up­hold. It’s a mi­cro­cosm of the val­ues that Re­pub­lic­ans must re­con­cile with­in them­selves, and with­in their party.

Up­date: Paul re­leased a state­ment Tues­day push­ing back against crit­ics.

“I did not say vac­cines caused dis­orders, just that they were tem­por­ally re­lated — I did not al­lege caus­a­tion,” Paul said in the state­ment. “I sup­port vac­cines, I re­ceive them my­self and I had all of my chil­dren vac­cin­ated. In fact today, I re­ceived the boost­er shot for the vac­cines I got when I went to Guatem­ala last year.”

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