WASHINGTON -- While Republican presidential contenders are waffling on the issue of vaccinations, a bipartisan group of senators sought on Tuesday to squash bunk medical science that has led parents not to vaccinate their children.
The conversation around vaccination has risen to national prominence recently as a measles outbreak has spread across more than a dozen states, affecting 121 people as of last week. Authorities have tied the outbreak to an increasing number of parents who are refusing to vaccinate their kids.
At the hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that polio and measles vaccines "work so well, that the memory of these diseases has faded and the importance of vaccination has become less obvious."
She asked Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to "walk through the science" of vaccines, asking a series of questions on whether there was any scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism; cause "profound mental disorders"; cause a rise in allergies or autoimmune disorders; contain toxic additives or preservatives; or should be spaced further apart -- all beliefs that vaccination opponents cite.
Schuchat debunked all of those rumors.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a committee member who was not present at the hearing, recently used the phrase "profound mental disorders" in describing what may happen to children after they get vaccines. He also reportedly spaced out his own children's vaccines over time. Paul has since clarified that he "did not allege causation" between mental disorders and vaccines.
But the issue has become an unlikely lightning rod among GOP presidential contenders. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) also stumbled over the issue, initially saying that "parents need to have some measure of choice" on vaccinations, and later adding that “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated."
On Thursday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) left no room for waffling. During the hearing, Alexander recalled how a former president of South Africa rejected the science on HIV/AIDS, "setting back South Africa for years." He also drew parallels to the Ebola virus, pointing out that while efforts to fight Ebola have resulted in the number of cases declining, the U.S. is experiencing "a large outbreak of a disease for which we do have a vaccine."
“Instead of using the Internet as your doctor, go to your pediatrician in your local community and listen to him or her," Alexander told The Huffington Post after the hearing.
House members also paraded a group of medical experts at a hearing last week to support the science of vaccinations, with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) noting, "This is far too serious an issue to be treated as a political football."
Alexander added on Tuesday, "What we saw today in our hearing is that Republican and Democratic Senators unanimously believe -- those at the hearing -- that vaccines save lives."