WASHINGTON ― Senators wanted to know Tuesday whether President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the health department harbors weird views on vaccines like the president does.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) bluntly asked Tom Price whether he believes vaccines cause autism, a discredited conspiracy theory that Trump has long espoused.
“I think the science in that instance is that it does not,” Price said.
Price, an orthopedic surgeon, started saying something about “individuals across our country” but Menendez cut him off.
“I’m not asking about individuals,” Menendez said. “I’m talking about science. You’re going to head a department in which science, not alternate universes of people’s views, is going to be central to a trillion-dollar budget and the health of the nation.”
The senator asked if Price would commit to the American people that as health secretary, he would swiftly “debunk false claims to protect the public health.” Price said he would “make certain that factual informing is conveyed to Congress and the president and the American people.”
Amy Pisani called the answer reassuring. Pisani is the director of Every Child By Two, an organization co-founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter in 1991 to promote public immunization policies.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Pisani said, “will be responsible for allocating precious resources through the budget and all research ought to be dictated by scientific evidence rather than, as Mendendez put it, ‘alternate universes of people’s views.’”
Vaccination has eradicated a number of diseases from the U.S. and the world, and all 50 states require parents to have their children vaccinated before sending them to school or daycare. Proponents of the bogus vaccine-autism link have advocated for more exemptions to those state laws, which public health experts say is basically doing diseases a favor.
In light of the president’s fringe beliefs, last week Every Child By Two and dozens of other groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, asked senators to get Price to commit to vaccines.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked whether Price, as a physician, believed parents should get their kids vaccinated according to the schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of the health department. Price didn’t exactly say that they should.
“I think that the science and healthcare has identified a very important aspect of public health, and that is the role of vaccinations,” he said.