As U.S. senators and presidential candidates in 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton responded to a questionnaire from the vaccination skeptic group Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning (A-CHAMP), and espoused views about childhood vaccinations that would likely not be politically acceptable today.
Some of Clinton’s answers to the questionnaire resurfaced Monday, though her full response, and that of Obama, had not been published.
But discovered deep within the internet, the then-candidates’ answers cast a fuller light on their stance on the issue at the time, and indicates that they at least sought to pander to vaccination skeptics by supporting a ban on the vaccination preservative thimerosal and backing more research into the link between vaccinations and autism.
Obama himself directly indicated that parents should be allowed to decide not to vaccinate their kids.
The issue of childhood vaccinations has come back into the spotlight amid a recent outbreak of measles. The disease, which was once thought to have been eradicated in the U.S., has seen a resurgence in recent years as anti-vaccination views have taken hold, mostly in deeply liberal communities.
The debate turned political in recent days. During an interview with NBC News on Sunday, President Obama told Americans that “you should get your kids vaccinated.”
“The science is, you know, pretty indisputable,” he added.
Then, on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul drew attention for their comments on the issue.
Christie said that parents should be afforded “some measure of choice” in making vaccination decisions. Reporters pounced and discovered that in 2009, Christie met with parents who were skeptical of vaccinations. In a TV interview, Paul cited “freedom” as a reason not to force parents to get their children vaccinated, though he said he believes it is a good idea to do so. Paul’s association with a medical group which has published some anti-vaccination views in the past was brought to light.
But Obama’s and Clinton’s past views went largely untested.
Both Democrats — as well as Republican nominee John McCain — responded to A-CHAMP’s questionnaire in spring 2008.
The group, which in recent years morphed into the Autism Action Network and has closed down its website, worked to lobby politicians to fund research into the link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Their main goal is to address injuries related to thimerosal as well as the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).
The movement largely focused on thimerosal — a preservative used in vaccines which contains mercury. Many vaccine skeptics — or “anti-vaxxers” — believe that thimerosal can cause autism and other developmental issues. The federal government banned it in 2001 as a precautionary measure after complaint from the groups, but has maintained that there is no link between the preservative and autism.
In their answers to the questionnaire, the candidates struck a political tone — promising more money and more attention to autism research. (RELATED: Hillary Clinton Wanted To Investigate Link Between Vaccinations And Autism)
In response to the question, “Do you think vaccines should be investigated as a possible cause of autism?” Obama responded:
“I believe that the next president must restore confidence and open communication with the American people. This includes environmental policies and government funded research. An Obama administration will go where the science and the facts lead us, whether it is about climate change or toxic heavy metals in our environment.”
Asked, “What will you do to protect Americans, especially young children and pregnant women, from exposure to mercury through vaccines?” Obama replied:
“I support the removal of thimerosal from all vaccines and work to ensure that Americans have access to vaccines that are mercury free.”
For her part, Clinton said that she would push to “ensure that all vaccines are as safe as possible for our children by working to ensure that Thimerosal and mercury are removed from vaccines.”
By the time Obama and Clinton weighed in on the toxicity of the preservative, ample research had discredited the claim that it was linked to autism.
“Would you support a large-scale federal study of the differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups?” Obama was asked.
“Experience has taught that effective medical research must be ‘large-scale’ and well funded. I believe Americans should know must know the health effects that [are] caused by the presence of mercury in vaccines,” Obama responded.
“Would you support a federal right for families and individuals to choose for themselves which vaccines they will use?”
“I support screening for a wide variety of diseases and disorders,” Obama replied. “I believe that every American has the right to access these screenings, and I believe that every American has the right also to refuse these screenings voluntarily if they so choose. I also support a thorough and independent review of our nation’s vaccination policies.”
Clinton’s responses were similar.
On the question of whether vaccinations should be investigated as a possible cause of autism, Clinton replied, “I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”
“I have long been a supporter of increased research to determine the links between environmental factors and diseases, and I believe we should increase the [National Institute of Health’s] ability to engage in this type of research.”
Would you support a large-scale federal study of the differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups?
“Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out. The lack of research on treatments, interventions, and services for children and adults with autism is a major impediment to the development of delivery of quality care.”
Clinton’s main difference with Obama was on the question of whether families and individuals should have a right to refuse vaccination. The former first lady skirted around the question.
“As President, I will support efforts to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective, including independent reviews and large-scale studies,” Clinton responded. “All Americans should have access to accurate and comprehensive information about vaccinations.”
On Monday, Clinton offered her current stance on vaccinations, but made no reference to her past views on the issue.
“The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork,” Clinton tweeted. “Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”
One of the co-founders of A-CHAMP, Robert Krakow, declined to be interviewed, saying that he has since moved on to other projects.