Ben Carson backs vaccinations as 'safe'
© Greg Nash

Ben Carson, a potential Republican presidential candidate, on Monday strongly backed vaccinations, splitting from two possible rivals who suggested parents should decide whether to immunize their children.

"Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, told The Hill in a statement.

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“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” he added.

Carson's comments came amid a contentious political debate over vaccinations, spurred by an outbreak of measles.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulGOP rep: Trump has 'extra-constitutional' view of presidency The ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? Rand Paul skeptical about Romney as secretary of State MORE, two potential 2016 candidates, both came under fire Monday for saying it should be up to parents whether to vaccinate their children.

Christie said “parents need to have some measure of choice” in deciding whether to vaccinate their children. He made the comment in London, where he’s on a trip meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials. 

The New Jersey governor quickly clarified his position once the issue began grabbing national headlines in the U.S.

"To be clear: The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated," Christie’s office said in a statement sent to reporters.

"At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate."

Paul, however, doubled down on his view that the decision whether to vaccinate one’s child is a matter of personal liberty.
 
"The state doesn't own your children," Paul said in an interview with CNBC's "Closing Bell." "Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom and public health."

Paul also said he’s heard of cases where children were left with “profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated. Some opponents of child vaccination have drawn links between vaccines and autism, although this has been discredited in the medical community.

A large outbreak of more than 100 cases of measles that has affected 14 states has stirred political debate over the importance of vaccinations.

The Obama administration has been involved in a coordinated push to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.