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Rand Paul says he’s heard of vaccines leading to “profound mental disorders” in children

On Monday, Sen. Rand Paul said that he'd heard of "many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines" — a concern that has not been substantiated despite years and years of scientific research into the topic.

Throughout his comments during an interview on CNBC, Paul maintained, "I'm not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they're a good thing." He called them "one of the biggest medical breakthroughs we've had," and added, "I think public awareness of how good vaccines are for kids and how they are good for public health is a great idea."

Yet his nod to the all-too-common — and unsubstantiated — belief that vaccines can cause mental problems in children seems to undercut that certainty.

This belief doesn't divide neatly along political lines, as I wrote earlier today. Indeed, on Twitter, several conservatives strongly disagreed with Paul's remarks — as many did with Gov. Chris Christie for vaccine-related comments earlier Monday.

Many beliefs that vaccines cause autism are based on one fraudulent and debunked study, as Julia Belluz explained today.

Here's the context of Paul's remarks. (His office released a follow-up statement reiterating that Paul believes vaccines "should be administered to children," but remaining silent on the issue of mental health.)

Q: Senator, maybe you're not aware, but there's a huge problem right now with Disney theme parks having to close down because of mumps. Not enough children being vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella because their parents for whatever reason have decided that it is voluntary. And I can tell you plenty of the people who I work with are really concerned about their kids getting sick at school.

PAUL: Here's the thing is, I think vaccines are one of the biggest medical breakthroughs that we've had. I'm a big fan and a great fan of the history and the development of the smallpox vaccine for example. But for most of our history they have been voluntary, so I don't think I'm arguing for anything out of the ordinary, we're arguing for what most of our history has had.

Q: I understand you're all for the choice. But again, if we're left in a situation where diseases that were once almost wiped out are now coming back because people are deciding not to vaccinate their kids, isn't that a problem?

PAUL: I think public awareness of how good vaccines are for kids and how they are good for public health is a great idea. We just appointed a Surgeon General. These are some of the things that are things that we should promote as good for our health. But I don't think there's anything extraordinary about resorting to freedom. I'll give you a good example. The Hepatitis B vaccine is now given to newborns, we sometimes give 5 and 6 vaccines all at one time. I chose to have mine delayed. I don't want the government telling me that I have to give my newborn a Hepatitis B vaccine which is transmitted by sexually transmitted disease, and/or blood transfusions. Do I think it's ultimately a good idea? Yeah. And I've had mine staggered over several months.

I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines. I'm not arguing vaccines are a bad idea, I think they're a good thing. But I think the parent should have some input. The state doesn't own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.