WASHINGTON – Two leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday all children should be vaccinated, joining a debate that has become a national political flashpoint, as a measles outbreak rekindles a discussion on safety and the right of parents to forgo inoculation of their children.
“I don’t know that we need another law, but I do believe that all children ought to be vaccinated,” House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, told reporters.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said at the Brookings Institution in Washington that she was sympathetic to parents’ concerns but that maintaining public health required that all children receive the necessary inoculations.
President Barack Obama this week urged parents to have their children vaccinated against preventable diseases such as the measles. But Republicans are split on whether parents should have more leeway to decide which vaccines their children need.
Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, but an outbreak that began in California in December has shone a spotlight on the so-called anti-vaccination movement.
Debunked theories that once suggested a link between vaccines and autism have led some parents to refuse to have their children inoculated. Even though doctors say those fears are unfounded, many libertarian-leaning Republicans say parents should have the freedom not to vaccinate their kids.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate, on Monday said parents needed a “measure of choice.” His spokesman later said the governor believed kids should be vaccinated against measles.
Two other possible Republican presidential candidates, both with medical backgrounds, diverged on the issue.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ophthalmologist, said in an interview with CNBC on Monday that he had heard of instances where vaccines caused “mental disorders” and that parents should have input on whether their children receive them.
However, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and conservative pundit, said preventable diseases should not be allowed to return just because some parents object to “safe” vaccines, according to the Washington publication The Hill.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, widely seen as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, was more blunt. On Monday, she wrote on Twitter, “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork.”