Physician-Senators on Vaccine Mandates
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 12:06 PM

Two Republican senators, both physicians, clashed over whether the government should make vaccinations mandatory.

When Sen. (and ophthalmologist) Rand Paul, MD (R-Ky.) said some vaccine mandates had “run amok,” that drew the attention of Sen. (and gastroenterologist) Bill Cassidy, MD (R-La.). “If you are such a believer in liberty that you do not wish to be vaccinated, then there should be a consequence and that is that you cannot infect other people," Cassidy said in defending school vaccination requirements.

While most senators agreed on the need for vaccination, Paul disputed the need to make it mandatory.  He noted that, in the past, a government-mandated vaccine for rotavirus was reversed when it was discovered that the vaccine caused intestinal blockages in children. Paul also pointed out that flu vaccines are sometimes “completely wrong” when scientists choose the wrong strain of vaccine.  “[I]t is wrong to say that there are no risk to vaccines," he said, noting that the government's Vaccine Injury Compensation program has paid $4 billion since 1988.  And still, Paul said, no informed consent is required for a vaccine.

Paul appeared ambivalent over concerns about individuals who choose not to be immunized for non-medical reasons, spreading diseases to people with compromised immune systems.  “There doesn't seem to be enough evidence of this happening, to be reported as a statistic, but it could happen," he said.  “I’m not here to say don’t vaccinate your kids.... I believe that the benefits of vaccine greatly outweigh the risk, but I still do not favor giving up on liberty for a false sense of security,” Paul concluded.

Choosing his words carefully, Cassidy said he’d like to "give some color to what Senator Paul said."  He pointed out that there currently is a federal statute requiring that vaccine information statements be shared with patients, and that most states "typically do require informed consent." He noted that in years when scientists choose the wrong strain of flu vaccine, “there is a cross benefit that will decrease the severity." And Cassidy stressed the matter of “herd immunity" to counter Paul's' skepticism, by noting that hospitals often require employees to be immunized.  "[I]f the nurse's aide is not immunized she can be a 'Typhoid Mary,' if you will, bringing disease to many who are immunocompromised," Cassidy said.

"In terms of a requirement," Cassidy continued, "the requirement is just that you cannot enter school unless you're vaccinated. ... If you believe in liberty, that’s fine, don't get immunized but I don't think you need to necessarily expose others to disease."

At the same hearing, a now-famous high school student from Norwalk, Ohio, explained why he defied his mother, and chose to get immunized in December 2018, once he was of legal age to do so. Ethan Lindenberger said his decision was based out of concern for his own health and safety as well as for others. He was pulled from class and told every year he could not attend school without his vaccines, every year he was “opted out" of immunizations and, because of current legislation, allowed to stay in school, Lindenberger's written testimony noted. “And so my school viewed me as a health threat ... that for me also pushed into getting my vaccines, despite my mother's beliefs," Lindenberger told the committee.