Editorial: Candidates spread dangerous epidemic of bad information

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden, right, laughs as he receives a flu shot from nurse B.K. Morris during an event about flu vaccinations, Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Vaccinations are most effective when everyone gets them. If some people choose not to vaccinate, others may become sick or die unnecessarily.

Similarly, responsible people need to step in when crazy falsehoods circulate. Or the falsehoods spread and do real harm.

It was troubling on Wednesday at the Republican presidential debate when a fully discredited idea that vaccinations and autism are linked was raised and no one quashed it before it could do more harm. People who think they’ve got what it takes to be president should know better.

The infection of falsehoods started when Donald Trump wrongly stated there has been an epidemic of autism and that it would be wiser to space out more widely the time between vaccines for various diseases.

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That’s when the other ten candidates should have administered a healthy dose of fact. They should have pointed out that the rate of autism in the United States has not spiked. That nine straight studies by the Centers for Disease Control have found no link between autism and vaccines. That the number and spacing of vaccines has been carefully calibrated and that spacing them out further would fly in the face of medical science and put people at risk.

The closest any candidate came to stepping up and talking sense was Ben Carson, a doctor, but he unfortunately also said, “ … we are probably giving way too many [vaccines] in too short a period of time.”

There simply is no medical basis for such a claim. Worse, it may encourage people who think it’s OK not to vaccinate their children.

When people choose not to vaccinate, they don’t put just themselves or their children at risk. They imperil people with weak immune systems and children too young for vaccinations.

In America, nearly 200 people have caught the measles this year — a decade and a half after we thought we’d eradicated it — because of people who oppose vaccinations. It’s a good thing the anti-vaccine didn’t carry such weight when we were working to eradicate smallpox, or we would still be dying of that, too.

While we’re on the topic of vaccinations, let us remind you that now is a good time for a flu shot. Yes, the usual peak of the flu season — February — is five months away, but if you wait until you’ve been exposed, it could be too late because your system needs time to build up antibodies after the shot. And you never know if this will be a season in which the flu arrives early.

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