Rand Paul Fails Parents and Kids of Every Political Persuasion by Offering Weak Support for Vaccines

Measles cases number 206 so far this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The biggest outbreak—71 cases—is in Clark County, Washington, where the vast majority those who have fallen ill were unvaccinated children.
At a Senate hearing yesterday, 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, testified that after reading the scientific data, he decided to finally get himself immunized against the wishes of his anti-vaccine mother. At the same Senate hearing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) noted, "I've vaccinated myself and I've vaccinated my kids. For myself and my children I believe that the benefits of vaccines greatly outweighing the risks."
That's the message a respected and responsible physician who knows the scientific evidence should be providing to the American people. Unfortunately, Paul didn't leave it there.
"Now proponents of mandatory government vaccination argue that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children risk spreading these diseases to immunocompromised community," Paul said. "There doesn't seem to be enough evidence of this happening to be recorded as a statistic." Paul added, "It is wrong to say that there are no risks to vaccines. Even the government admits that children are sometimes injured by vaccines."
Paul does a disservice to his constituents and concerned parents with these two claims. He should have pointed out many folks have for years been misled by a fraudulent 1998 article in The Lancet suggesting a link between the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and autism. That article was retracted in 2011 and the principal investigator lost his medical license.
And in fact, there are at least 10 million immunocompromised Americans (e.g., those being treated with chemotherapy for cancer, taking medications for chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, living with organ transplants, or suffering from HIV/AIDS) who are at risk of infection from people who refuse to protect themselves and their families from vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2015, an immunocompromised woman died of measles in Washington State after she had been at a hospital at the same time as a patient who later developed a rash and was diagnosed with measles. "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic," Joseph Stalin once reportedly quipped. The death of the Washington woman may not be a statistic, but it was a preventable tragedy.
When Paul references the government's own acknowledgement of the risks posed by vaccination, he might be referring to data from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) that was set up by the federal government in the 1980s to prevent predatory tort lawsuits from destroying the vaccine industry. The VICP reports that from 2006 to 2017, over 3.4 billion doses of covered vaccines were distributed in the U.S. During that same period, 6,094 petitions for compensation were filed and, of those, 4,172 petitioners were compensated. This means for every one million doses of vaccine that were distributed, one individual was compensated.
It is also worth noting that "almost 80 percent of all compensation awarded by the VICP comes as result of a negotiated settlement between the parties in which HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] has not concluded, based upon review of the evidence, that the alleged vaccine(s) caused the alleged injury."
We can also contrast the VICP data with the toll of injuries and deaths caused by measles before vaccines became available in 1962. Annual measles cases averaged 530,000, of which 48,000 were hospitalized and 450 of those infected died. A 1985 study by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist in the journal Pediatrics estimated that the first 20 years of measles vaccination in the U.S. had prevented 52 million cases, 5,200 deaths, and 17,400 cases of mental retardation.
In that same vein, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the annual average number of cases and resulting deaths of various diseases before the advent of vaccines to those occurring in 2006. Before an effective diphtheria vaccine was developed, for example, there were about 21,000 cases of the disease each year, 1,800 of them leading to death. No cases or deaths from the disease were recorded in 2006. Whooping cough saw around 200,000 cases and 4,000 deaths annually. In 2006, there were nearly 16,000 cases and only 27 deaths. Polio once averaged around 16,000 annual cases and 1,900 deaths. No cases were recorded in 2006. The number of Rubella cases dropped from 48,000 to 17, and the number of deaths dropped from 17 to zero.
These are the sort of data that likely persuaded Lindenberger to protect himself and others through vaccination. We should be troubled when an 18-year-old with no scientific training proves a more enthusiastic and informed witness to the benefits of modern medicine than a seasoned medical doctor. And yet that is where we are. On Monday, a comprehensive new study further backed up Lindenberger's views on the safety and benefits of vaccination. A team of Danish physicians analyzed the health data on more than 650,000 Danish kids who had been immunized against using the MMR vaccine. The researchers report that their "study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination."
A responsible senator and physician should also have been highlighting those data, instead of kowtowing to anti-vaccination fearmongers. After all, if Paul thinks that vaccination is good enough for his family, he should be explaining to other families how he reached that conclusion, rather than providing them with additional reasons to endanger their own children.
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