Science of Immunization Misrepresented in Congressional Hearing

During a Congressional hearing on March 5, 2019, Senator Rand Paul erroneously suggested that the benefits of immunization have not been scientifically proven. Senator Paul stated:

“[P]roponents of mandatory government vaccination argue that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children risk spreading these diseases to the immunocompromised community . . . There doesn’t seem to be enough evidence of this happening to be recorded as a statistic.”

In fact, however, vaccination results in “herd immunity” which has been proven to help prevent the spread of disease among the immunocompromised. This was emphasized by several doctors and medical organizations, who criticized Senator Paul’s comments.

During the March 5 hearing, Senator Bill Cassidy, a licensed physician, responded to Senator Paul by stating:

“Hospitals commonly require their employees to be immunized because they understand that herd immunity is important and if the nurse’s aide is not immunized, she can be a Typhoid Mary if you will, bringing disease to many who are immunocompromised.”

A spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Sean O’Leary, subsequently told reporters that herd immunity is particularly important for infectious diseases such as measles and chickenpox. He explained that measles:

“is certainly potentially deadly, especially among the immunocompromised, and we now relatively have a much larger group of immunocompromised people in the U.S. thanks to new disease modifying medications, better cancer treatments, etc. Many of the deaths from varicella (chickenpox) in the U.S. prior to the varicella vaccine were in immunocompromised patients.”

Similarly, Dr. Michael Brady, Associate Medical Director at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and a member of the Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases, stated:

“[I]f you give a vaccine to somebody, you protect them from getting infected, but you also prevent them from transmitting the disease to other people.”