Why Trump, Paul Are Wrong -- 'No Alternative Vaccine Schedule'

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump at the Republican Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley last night. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump likely wrecked the day of vaccine experts across the country in last night's Republican debate. Trump reiterated his opinion that vaccines cause autism, a belief that has been thoroughly debunked by repeated studies.

Candidate Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, did refute Trump, saying, "We have extremely well-documented proof that there's no autism associated with vaccinations." The Autism Self Advocacy Network also pointed to the "wealth of scientific evidence debunking any link between autism and vaccinations," in its own statement.

Then pretty quickly, the discussion morphed into a challenge of the vaccine schedule itself. Worse, it started with Sen. Rand Paul, who is a physician, an ophthalmologist, and said he was for vaccines but also "for freedom." He suggested spacing out vaccines.

Trump essentially said the same thing. “I’m in favor of vaccines," he said, then added the caveat: "Do them over a longer period of time, same amount, ... But just in little sections.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics is trying to set the record straight: "There is no 'alternative' immunization schedule," Dr. Karen Remley, executive director of the group said in a statement. "Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer."

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The Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccinating against 14 diseases, beginning at birth.

Dr. Paul Offit, who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is one of the vaccine experts who is now spending a chunk of his day countering Trump's assertions.

Yes, 100 years ago, there was just one vaccine available -- smallpox. Today, there are far more. But the overall challenge to the immune system is actually smaller today, Offit says.

"The number of immunological components in vaccines today is fewer than the one vaccine we got a hundred years ago," he said.

Beyond vaccines, simply living outside the womb's sterile environment, Offit says, makes your immune system work harder than today's vaccines do.

"When you leave the womb," he said, "very quickly you have living on the surface of your body trillions of bacteria to which you make an immune response."

"You're always exposed to a whole wealth of immune challenges, every day, that are far greater than what you get from vaccines," he added.

Dr. Art Reingold, a professor of public health at UC Berkeley, also vouched for the safety of the schedule. "We know we are not overwhelming the infant's immune system, that the infant on a daily basis sees more antigens just in terms of interacting with the environment and crawling around, than from vaccines."

The vaccine schedule is well-tested, Offit says, and new vaccines are not added randomly. "You can't put a vaccine onto the existing schedule without proving that that vaccine doesn't interfere with the safety profile of existing vaccines."

So, when Donald Trump suggests that vaccines can be spaced out?

He's "arguing for a schedule that's untested."

While delaying vaccines puts children at risk of contracting disease, as the American Academy of Pediatrics' Remley noted, it's unclear how great that delay would be for specific shots.

"It would depend on which disease and how common it is," Reingold said and would be hard to quantify.

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But delaying vaccines might be the only way some parents will consent to vaccinating their child in the first place. "There are providers who might say ... 'I'm willing to work with you on that,' " Reingold speculated, while noting that he does not see patients himself. "I'm sure those are difficult discussions between parents and providers."

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