Tom Price Wants Vaccine Policy Left Up To States & That's Beyond Terrifying

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One concerning thing about Donald Trump that rarely draws much attention is his repeated flirtation with the dangerous, unscientific anti-vaccination movement. That trend continued on Thursday, when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that vaccines shouldn't be mandatory. Rather, Price said, states should be allowed to decide on their own whether or not to require parents to vaccinate their children.

During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Price explained himself — or at least tried.

I believe it’s a perfectly appropriate role for the government — this happens by and large at the state-government level — because they’re the ones who have the public-health responsibility to determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population, whether it's growing kids or the like.

Let's get this out of the way first: Vaccinations are a good thing, and the anti-vax movement is both scientifically unfounded and a threat to public health. The genesis of the anti-vax movement was a single 1988 article in Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, which claimed that vaccines were linked to autism. But Wakefield's study has been thoroughly debunked: Lancet retracted it in 2010, explaining that its findings were "utterly false," and the British government eventually revoked Wakefield's medical license, concluding that he'd acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in conducting the Lancet study.

Nevertheless, many have convinced themselves that vaccinations are harmful, and there's strong evidence to suggest that the movement has caused a serious step backward in the way of public health: Mumps, measles, and whooping cough have all experienced a resurgence in recent years, just as the anti-vax movement began to gain mainstream prominence.

Unfortunately, the president of the United States is a vaccine skeptic. I say "vaccine skeptic" instead of "anti-vax" because Trump's position on vaccinations, like his positions on so many other things, is difficult to pin down and has shifted over the years.

Trump has been talking about vaccines and autism for almost a decade, and his general position seems to be that, while vaccines are OK in small doses, they might cause autism if children receive high doses all at once. (He is wrong about this.) Also of note is that during the presidential campaign, Trump reportedly met with several anti-vaccination advocates at a fundraiser — including Wakefield.

Trump hasn't yet made any big moves on vaccine policy. But Price's comments don't inspire confidence, and Trump's troubled history with vaccinations makes it difficult to interpret Price's argument with a grain of salt. Let's hope the administration's policymakers aren't nearly as sympathetic to anti-vaxxers as Trump himself seems to be.