WH: 'Irresponsible' not to vaccinate children

Getty Images

President Obama believes it is "irresponsible" for parents not to vaccinate their children, but does not think the federal government should mandate the practice, the White House said Tuesday.

"It shouldn't require a law for people to exercise common sense and do the right thing," press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

The White House said there was a tradition — and substantial case law — suggesting that state and local officials should be the ones setting vaccination policy. But Earnest added that, if asked, Obama would continue to repeat his guidance to parents across the country that they should vaccinate their children.

And the president believes that "science had settled" questions about whether vaccines posed an increased risk of autism, Earnest said.

A prominent study linking autism to vaccines has been discredited, and no study since has demonstrated a correlation between the disorder and those who inoculate their children.

"Failing to do so only puts at risk those families that have small children who can't be vaccinated against the measles until they're 12 months old, or also puts at risk those children that have compromised immune systems that also can't get the measles vaccine," Earnest said. "That's why the president believes that parents do have a responsibility here, and so it's a responsibility not just for their own kids, but for kids in their community."

The issue of vaccinations has dominated headlines in recent days after an outbreak of more than a hundred measles cases in the United States — and two likely Republican presidential candidates saying it should be up to parents to decide the issue.

“The state doesn’t own your children,” Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (R-Ky.) said during an interview with CNBC. “Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said parents should have a “measure of choice” on vaccinations, but later said there was "no question" that kids should get their shots.

Earnest repeatedly declined to weigh in on those comments, saying the issue "shouldn't be about politics."