Vaccination Debate Flares

By Philip Rucker and Rosalind S. Helderman

Vaccination debate

The CDC is urging people to get vaccinated for measles amid an outbreak that began at Disneyland and has now spread to other states, including Utah, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

Medical experts reacted with alarm Monday as two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination appeared to question whether child vaccinations should be mandatory — injecting politics into an emotional issue that has taken on new resonance with a recent outbreak of measles in the United States.

First, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while visiting a vaccine laboratory here, called for “some measure of choice” on whether shots guarding against measles and other diseases should be required for children.

Then, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist who is also readying a 2016 campaign, said in two U.S. television interviews that he thinks most vaccines should be voluntary, citing “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

“The state doesn’t own your children,” Paul said on CNBC, praising vaccines for their health benefits but insisting that the government should not mandate their use in most cases. “Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

The vigorous outcry in response to the remarks underscored the sensitivity surrounding the vaccination debate, particularly given a widening multistate measles outbreak linked to a California theme park. Both Christie and Paul are leading GOP candidates who are likely to exercise significant influence over the direction of the 2016 primary race.

The comments also illustrated persistent strains of skepticism within both parties over vaccination requirements, fueled in part by discredited claims of a connection between childhood shots and autism. Scientists have blamed a small but influential anti-vaccine movement for helping spark a new epidemic of measles, which was once virtually eliminated.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that more than 100 cases of the highly infectious disease were diagnosed in January. Most of the cases appear linked to victims who became ill after visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in mid-December.

“When you see educated people or elected officials giving credence to things that have been completely debunked, an idea that’s been shown to be responsible for multiple measles and pertussis outbreaks in recent years, it’s very concerning,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease physician at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh. He called the comments from Paul particularly troubling because Paul is a doctor.

Christie’s aides quickly tried to clarify his remarks, insisting in a statement that the Republican governor believes vaccines are “an important public health protection.”

After visiting a MedImmune vaccine laboratory in Cambridge, Christie was asked to weigh in on the debate in the United States over the measles outbreak. President Obama told NBC News anchor Savannah Guthrie on Sunday, “You should get your kids vaccinated.”

“The science is, you know, pretty indisputable,” Obama said. “We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

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