Ford Vox: Trump made bogus vaccine claims, doctors Carson and Paul barely objected. It was one example of overreach at debate
He says slams of Obamacare, Planned Parenthood's family planning role, Huckabee's junk diabetes science are disturbing
Vox: Health care requires big ideas, big research, big money, and big regulation to accomplish well. Leaders must know this
Editor’s Note: Ford Vox is a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine and a journalist. He is a medical analyst for NPR station WABE 90.1 in Atlanta. He writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @FordVox. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The second GOP debate provided a platform to one of the lesser-known facets of Donald Trump’s shape-shifting persona: Dr. Trump.
“Donald Trump, M.D.,” who apparently picked up his medical “bona fides” at Wharton School of Business, delivered a quack prescription that would be funny. That is if it didn’t have the potential to cause suffering and death for any of the millions of people watching at home and taking it as seriously as they take anything the real estate magnate says. That is the scary part.
Donald Trump told the world Wednesday night that he believes vaccines cause autism — an erroneous, disproved claim.
But he wasn’t the only problem on this front. Duke University is a great medical school. The University of Michigan is probably even better than Duke. Yet those universities also suffered some shame Wednesday night as real doctors hailing from the two schools — Ben Carson and Rand Paul – took the stage alongside Trump at the Reagan Presidential Library.
They didn’t distinguish themselves among their medical colleagues. Neither neurosurgeons (Carson) nor ophthalmologists (Paul) are known to prescribe a lot of childhood vaccines, but as physicians both ought to have known better than to tacitly endorse Dr. Trump’s medicine show.
Instead both waffled and downplayed their responses, pandering to a GOP base enthralled with Trump, and in doing so lent credence to his bogus claim about autism and vaccines. Both docs seem to prefer prescribing “common sense” and folk wisdom to medical science and good public health policy. This is the same common sense that held us back from accepting the germ theory of disease. It’s the same common sense that denies climate change.
Carson joked that Trump is “an OK doctor,” after listening to Trump’s prescription to use “smaller doses over a longer period of time” in order to avoid autism, and before finally conceding, “we have extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations. But it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time. And a lot of pediatricians now recognize that, and, I think, are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done, and I think that’s appropriate.”
In fact Carson seems more concerned about government overreach than the merits of its policies. He blames “4.1 million federal employees” along with federal agencies for “pushing” vaccines that aren’t important. He hasn’t specified which of the vaccines, all recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, aren’t important enough to give, or give on schedule.
To be clear: Each of the 12 vaccines administered to children target common causes of crippling and deadly childhood diseases and represent the fruition of many years of hard-won medical research and careful analysis by scientists and clinicians.
Meanwhile, Rand Paul told the debate audience he doesn’t trust the recommended schedule, science be damned. “[E]ven if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines a little bit at the very least,” said Paul, who’s “all for vaccines. But I’m also for freedom.”
As a doctor, I cringed thinking about how many of the over 20 million viewers might actually respect these three men enough, especially the two with real medical credentials, to follow their deadly prescriptions.
The health policy overreach didn’t stop at vaccines, unfortunately. The debate gave the 11 top tier candidates three hours of prime time, in which many called for repealing Obamacare. Nobody, however talked about modifying it so we can keep the parts everybody likes, such as the ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. There’s plenty to tinker with under Obamacare’s hood to get it running better, in the same way Medicare has been improved over the years.
And women’s health care came up, but only in the guise of protecting the country from a fictitious version of Planned Parenthood we’ve been sold recently via carefully edited sting videos. Carly Fiorina described a gory scene that, while politically expedient, is made up.
While Planned Parenthood got name-dropped at least 23 times during the debate as candidates tripped over each other in their calls to defund the family-planning organization, Ben Carson didn’t inject himself into the bashing this time. Perhaps that’s because after lambasting fetal tissue research in the first GOP debate, Carson came off as a picture-perfect hypocrite once we learned he participated in such research. Fetal and embryonic tissues are still important tools in the search for medical cures.
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee again appealed for a war on “cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” which, based on his prior endorsements, might just as rationally involve holy scriptures as modern medicine. Earlier this year Huckabee made a video hawking a diabetes cure-all, declaring “Prescription drugs aren’t going to cure you. … They’re only going to keep you a loyal pill-popping, finger-pricking, insulin-shooting customer so Big Pharma and the mainstream medical community can rake in over $100 billion a year annually.”
That’s the same type of conspiracy thinking that undergirds much of the Republican field’s thoughts about health care, whether the topic is a bedrock of modern medicine like vaccines, the funding necessary for cutting-edge science, or expanding access to affordable health insurance.
These are activities that require big ideas, big research, big money, and big regulation to accomplish well and safely. We should pick a leader who understands how 17.4% of the U.S. economy works.