Feature Article: Science and Politics — Presidential Candidates on Vaccination

Published on in Parents PACK

The science on vaccine safety and efficacy is clear. Vaccines are not the cause of autism or other conditions, and the benefits of vaccines — including the prevention of severe and deadly diseases — clearly outweigh the risks, which are typically minor, such as pain or redness at the injection site.

Unfortunately, despite the scientific agreement about vaccines, the topic has been a source of discussion during the 2016 United States presidential campaign, and, is shockingly, a measure of the differences among them.

For this reason, we wanted to provide a summary of the positions of the four major candidates for U.S. president as well as address the facts and myths of their positions.

Hillary Clinton — Democratic Party

During this election cycle, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton is the only of the four major candidates to favor vaccines clearly and consistently. In February 2015, she tweeted

Gary Johnson — Libertarian Party

Libertarian Gary Johnson’s personal views on vaccines have evolved quite recently. In 2011, he tweeted, “No to mandatory vaccines.” However, in late August 2016, Johnson reversed his position. In an interview with Vermont Public Radio (VPR) on Aug. 25, Johnson said he became more aware of the concept of herd immunity and now supports mandatory vaccines. Herd immunity occurs when so many people in a community are immunized that even those who aren’t immunized — or who are unable to be immunized — will be protected. Herd immunity requires high enough vaccination rates in a community to prevent diseases from spreading.

Johnson also said he believed vaccines were a local issue, but if they became a federal issue, he would “come down on the side of science” and would “probably require that vaccine.”

Dr. Jill Stein — Green Party

In both July and August of 2016, Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and practiced internal medicine for 25 years, expressed doubt about the safety of vaccines and the effectiveness of vaccine regulations. In an interview with The Washington Post, Stein said vaccines were “an invaluable medication” but that people do not trust the vaccine regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, which licenses vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccines. She said that mistrust is a result of undue influence by the pharmaceutical industry on those agencies.

In her earlier statements, she invoked her qualifications as a doctor to claim that real concerns still exist among physicians about the vaccine schedule and the alleged toxicity of vaccine ingredients. After the interview, she initially tweeted, “There’s no evidence that autism is caused by vaccines,” but deleted the statement five minutes later and replaced it with more equivocal language, tweeting:

Less than an hour later, she added:

Although the only company she stated by name was Monsanto, which doesn’t make vaccines.

Donald Trump — Republican Party

Republican Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed vaccines hurt kids and cause autism, and he opposes mandatory vaccination. During a Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16, 2015, Trump incorrectly linked vaccines to autism, saying he knew a small child that developed autism because of vaccination. In the same debate, Trump said he was “totally in favor of vaccines” but wanted smaller doses and to delay and space out vaccines, which is against the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Obviously, some of these statements are alarming to those of us who study the science of vaccines. Vaccines should not be a political issue; they are studied scientifically and the recommendations are based on those studies. Presidential candidates need to understand and rely on scientific information if we expect them to make sound policies related to the many issues society faces that have scientific underpinnings. To this end, several scientific organizations have created ScienceDebate.org. As it has during the last two presidential election cycles, the group sent the two major political party nominees, Clinton and Trump, 20 questions that cover the county’s important science and engineering topics in order to gauge each candidates’ positions on scientific issues. In addition to vaccination, the list includes questions about innovation, public health, research, climate change, healthcare, energy and more. Candidates have been asked to respond in writing by Sept. 6.

Additional resources

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.