Presidential contenders Donald Trump (a celebrity business tycoon) and Ben Carson (a pediatric neurosurgeon) both pushed the notion that kids these days may be getting too many vaccines too soon at Wednesday's Republican debate.
"Vaccines are very important. Certain ones," Carson said. "The ones that would prevent death or crippling. There are others, a multitude of vaccines which probably don't fit in that category and there should be some discretion in those cases."
Trump agreed. "I want smaller doses over a longer period of time," Trump said.
What these Republican candidates were tapping into tonight is the push by parents to delay and space out kids' vaccines— even though scientific evidence suggests this is a bad idea.
The vaccine delayers
Its not entirely surprising that Carson and Trump are pushing the vaccine delayer narrative. It's a hugely popular idea among parents.
Right now, one of the top children's health books on Amazon.com, The Vaccine Book, is essentially an anti-vaccine tome that encourages parents to skip some jabs and create unique vaccine schedules for their children that aren't based on science.
The book has been called the "bane of pediatricians' existence."
One of the key ideas behind The Vaccine Book, authored by Southern California pediatrician Bob Sears, is that babies' immune systems aren't ready for the shots they are supposed to receive, according to public health recommendations about vaccines. So children get "overloaded" with too many inoculations too soon.
Researchers point out that there's absolutely no science to this "too many, too soon" idea of stressing kids' systems with vaccines, and that the government-approved schedule is based on the best-available research about when kids are most at-risk for diseases and when their immune systems are most receptive to them. Also, the data that we have for routine vaccines suggests harms are infinitesimally remote.
The totality of the research is stacked against alternative schedules, said Dr. Doug Opel, a Seattle pediatrician who studies vaccines. "There is just no science to this," he told Vox. "What gets lost a lot of the time is that there's an incredible amount of data underlying the recommended schedule."
Still, according to a recent survey of US pediatricians published in the journal Pediatrics, 93 percent reported that parents had asked them to space out their kids' vaccines in a typical month, and about one-fifth said that 10 percent or more of parents they saw made such requests.
Again, doctors themselves thought this was an unwise decision. About 87 percent believed parents put their kids' at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases and that it was more painful for children to return repeatedly for separate shots.
Trump and Carson disagreed on the issue of autism and vaccines
One of the points of disagreement between the two presidential hopefuls was on the question of whether vaccines cause autism.
Carson pointed out — correctly — that researchers have throughly discredited the notion, while Trump persisted with his belief.
"Autism has become an epidemic," Trump said. "It has gotten totally out of control."
To avoid this (imagined) health hazard, Trump suggested spacing kids' shots out on a delayed schedule, something he says he did with his own children.