It’s September and there’s a long year ahead before we choose a new president. Some of the people who want to lead the country are debating on TV. The topic of vaccines comes up. Two physician candidates and the @RealDonaldTrump offer a response. “Wait… that’s not true what you’re saying, Mr. Trump. Dr. Carson, Senator Paul… you are not helping parents understand vaccines or autism.”
Fast forward. I opened my social media feeds this morning, and I discovered an assertive statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics repeating what I tell parents every day. Vaccines save lives. Vaccines work. Vaccines do not cause autism. The CDC and the World Health Organization are not making this stuff up. Immunizations prevent disease and because we give vaccines at the proper time to maximize a good protective immune response, doctors minimize the risk of dying from infectious diseases.
If two physicians and a billionaire businessman want to imply or outright state something to the contrary, they are saying that pediatricians and epidemiologists are making stuff up, that we are not giving good and accurate information to the public. The idea that it’s perfectly fine to give any dose of vaccine at whatever age and interval a person might choose or that vaccines cause autism… those are bad ideas.
Here’s where I draw the line. Vaccines do not cause autism. I can’t wait to find out what does. (In the essence of full disclosure, I should admit that I’m a pediatrician who desperately wants it to be KidCuisines… or purple dye no. 42, or anything I can advise my patients to avoid.) But I know it’s not that simple. Vaccines DO save lives. I live that simple truth every day.
Can we give fewer doses of polio vaccine and still keep that paralyzing, deadly germ out of our country? I’m fine with a study to find out. Ben Carson may want to enroll his grandchildren, but what if the answer is “No, we need four doses of the polio vaccine timed as the World Health Organization recommends or we will see a resurgence of polio just like we are seeing with measles.” I hope one of Dr. Carson’s or Dr. Paul’s grandchildren don’t die or suffer paralyzing polio and have a life of disability as a result.
As I ponder the debating politicians, I’m glad I raised my children to play nicely in the sandbox. I don’t like confrontation. And so I’ve decided to invite Donald Trump and the doctors over for dinner. I thought I’d serve up the AAP statement on the importance of vaccines along with all the research we have done in the realm of immunizations. Maybe over a glass of wine, we can just chat about what might have been a better way to answer the question about vaccine safety and in the future, I won’t have to worry about public figures spreading misinformation to worried parents. My job is hard enough as it is. Saving lives at work and getting home in time to put a hot meal on the table: tonight we’re having baked chicken so no one will have to eat crow.