Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a licensed physician, argued Wednesday that vaccinating children should be a matter best handled by the states, and not dictated by federal guidelines.
Price’s comments, made during a CNN Town Hall on the Affordable Care Act, has fueled concerns that he shares some of the president’s sympathies for those who link childhood vaccinations with autism. This idea has been forcefully discredited by a wide body of scientific research, and the so-called anti-vaxx movement is credited with the return of once-eradicated diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough, not to mention the spread of preventable disease like the HPV virus.
The federal government does not currently mandate vaccination policy. However, Price does have the authority to revoke current guidelines and policies set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is under his jurisdiction. Currently the CDC recommends vaccinations for children. Those policies hold significant sway over state law.
Price also supports the Republican Obamacare replacement plan which contains a provision that would slash half the funding for the federal vaccines program. The Section 317 Vaccination program is critical to staying on top of immunizations and disease outbreaks nationwide.
Denise Edwards from Michigan asked Price whether he believed Americans, when deciding on a healthcare plan, should be penalized for eschewing immunizations “for ethical or religious reasons.”
“You ought to be able to select the plan that matches your needs instead of the federal government telling you, ‘This is what you’ve got to buy,’” Price responded.
Co-host Wolf Blitzer interrupted and pressed Price on the matter.
“Dr. Price, you’re a physician,” Blitzer said. “You believe in immunizations; you believe all children should get a shot for polio and other diseases.”
“It’s a perfectly appropriate role for government — this happens by and large at the state government level… to determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population,” Price said. “Whether it’s growing kids or the like, or, if its an outbreak of a particular infectious disease, whether immunization ought to be required or be able to be utilized.”
Price’s comments are seemingly a departure from the position he took during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez asked Price whether he agreed with Trump that vaccines cause autism.
“I think the science in that instance is that it does not,” Price said. He also promised senators that he would “make certain that factual informing is conveyed to Congress and the president and the American people” on the issue of vaccinations.
In January, during the transition period, Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy, a leading proponent of the anti-vaccination conspiracy theory. Kennedy told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower after the meeting that the then-president-elect had asked him to chair a special commission on vaccination safety. The purpose of the commission, he said, would be to ensure “scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.”