The fringe belief that vaccines may cause autism has been thoroughly debunked at this point, and there’s also no evidence that vaccines are otherwise unsafe.
But that hasn’t stopped at least two potential 2016 contenders from pandering to parents who strongly oppose vaccinating their children, even as a major measles outbreak spread in the United States.
Here’s where potential 2016 presidential contenders stand on whether childhood vaccines should be mandatory.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was asked Monday during a trip to London about the link between the current measles outbreak and parents who object to vaccinating their children. His answer, that the government should aim for “balance” on the issue to give parents “some measure of choice” in the matter, prompted his office to go into damage control.
“To be clear: The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated,” Christie’s office said in a statement afterward. “At the same time, different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which one’s government should mandate.”
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2009, Christie vocally supported parents who believed in the fringe theory that vaccines caused their children’s autism.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) one-upped Christie later Monday during an interview with conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham. Paul said that he was not “anti-vaccine” but believed that most vaccines “ought to be voluntary.”
In a subsequent interview with CNBC, Paul said he didn’t understand why that position was controversial. He cited alleged cases “of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines” to argue that parents should have input on the issue.
Dr. Ben Carson
Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon and potential GOP contender, said in a statement to BuzzFeed that individual objections shouldn’t stand in the way of a strict immunization policy.
“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious, or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” Carson said, adding that some “exceptional situations” would need to be addressed.
The conservative real estate mogul said Tuesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that while he’s personally seen vaccines cause “horrible autism” in children, he considers himself “totally pro-vaccine.”
But Trump has railed against the dangers of vaccines for years. He warned Fox News viewers in 2012 that he’d seen children develop autism after getting “monster shots,” even though a study that led some parents to believe vaccines caused their children’s autism had already been debunked. As recently as September, he ranted about vaccines on Twitter that “children are not horses.”
The former secretary of state said Tuesday on Twitter that she supported vaccinating children:
The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2015
Beyond that tweet, Clinton hasn’t commented on whether she believes vaccines should be mandatory in light of the current measles outbreak.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday scoffed at the uproar over Christie’s comments on vaccines as “silliness stirred up by the media.”
In an interview with Politico, Cruz said that he believes children should be vaccinated but that it should be up to each individual state whether to mandate vaccines. He added that exemptions for “good faith, religious convictions” were appropriate.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
Rick Perry’s spokesman, Travis Considine, told Politico on Tuesday that the former governor “strongly believes in protecting life and has sought to improve the health and well-being of Texans in a variety of ways, including increased immunization rates.”
That statement didn’t say much about Perry’s view on vaccinations. But he did carry out an unsuccessful push for one mandatory vaccination in his second term as governor.
Perry signed an executive order in 2007 that required sixth-grade girls to get the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against HPV and cervical cancer, despite the objections of state lawmakers who voted to block the mandate.
After launching his failed 2012 presidential bid, Perry backtracked on the order amid criticism from the religious right and scrutiny of the vaccine manufacturer’s ties to the governor.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters Tuesday that he believes all children should be vaccinated and that there is no evidence linking vaccinations to autism, as some may believe.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said in a statement Tuesday that Louisiana requires children to be immunized because vaccines “have been tested and proven to protect public health.”
“I have no reservations about whether or not it is a good idea and desirable for all children to be vaccinated. There is a lot of fear-mongering out there on this,” he said. “I think it is irresponsible for leaders to undermine the public’s confidence in vaccinations that have been tested and proven to protect public health.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
A spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told TPM on Tuesday that the senator urges all Americans to vaccinate their kids and “would reject any effort to stop vaccinations until somebody can show him there is a scientific reason to do so.”
The spokesman, Kevin Bishop, did not say whether Graham believed vaccinations should be mandatory.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)
A spokesperson for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told TPM on Tuesday that the governor “believes vaccinations help prevent serious health problems.”
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor’s family is vaccinated and that Walker “encourages others to do the same.”
He did not elaborate on whether Walker believes vaccines should be mandatory or believes parents should have a choice in vaccinating their children, however.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has not commented on the current measles outbreak. But he did indirectly address the vaccine-autism myth on his radio show in 2011, after former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) came under fire for linking a cervical cancer vaccine to mental disorders.
“She went a little too far afterward in saying that a woman told her that her daughter developed mental retardation after getting that vaccine,” Huckabee said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “That raised a howl of protest from doctors who’ve been piling up stacks of research showing no links between vaccinations and serious brain problems.”
He also addressed the retraction of a 1998 study suggesting vaccines may cause autism on his radio show in 2010.
“Many parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated because they think it might cause autism. That movement is threatening to bring back some diseases we thought were a part of the past,” Huckabee said, according to a transcript.
He added that the paper’s retraction “should help set parents’ minds at ease. But it probably won’t.”
This post has been updated.
Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify that Clinton hasn’t commented on the current measles outbreak beyond her tweet.