Dear Donald Trump: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

Well, we’ve survived Republican primary debate #2. Unfortunately, it was not a great day for science. Late in the debate, Trump went on a rant about how the vaccine schedule should be changed because it is causing autism. In fact, he’s even seen a small child with autism, which makes him an authority on its etiology. There were even two candidates who come from the medical field who were there: Rand Paul and Ben Carson, but neither gave a satisfactory response.

Carson correctly pointed out that there is no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism. The infamous Wakefield paper originally claiming this has been debunked and retracted by the journal, with Wakefield seen as a disgrace to his field by everyone with any credibility in medicine. Unfortunately, Carson also decided to pander to the anti-vaccine crowd by agreeing with Trump that the the vaccine schedule should be changed. He should have just stopped when he said that there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Trying to please everyone may be optimal for gaining supporters, but it’s also quite dangerous since it lends those with an unfounded claim far more credibility than they deserve. Rand Paul made a similar comment supporting delaying some vaccinations.

Surely one of the eleven candidates is knowledgable enough to know that Trump’s comments are quite dangerous and should be challenged. I suspect that at the very least both Carson and Paul know this but maybe were unwilling to give such a direct challenge as that might lose them some supporters (although it might gain some too). So, while Trump was the one to actually make anti-vaccine arguments, the silence or partial support from the other candidates means that no one really looks good here. Our immune systems can do many things, and there is basically no reason to think that a small number of vaccines would have any real affect on us considering how much bacteria we encounter every day. As the cliche goes, an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence, yet we don’t even have any ordinary evidence.