Senators from both parties stressed the importance of vaccinations on Tuesday amid a measles outbreak and a debate on vaccinations that burst into the presidential race.
Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, stressed at a hearing that the science is settled.
"Too many parents are turning away from sound science," Alexander said. "Sound science is this: Vaccines save lives."
There have been 121 cases of measles in 17 states since Jan. 1, with an outbreak centered on Disneyland in California. The majority of the cases are among people who are not vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The hearing comes as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulIt's time for Fauci to go — but don't expect it to happen On The Money — Democrats craft billionaire tax with deal in reach Rand Paul questioning if crypto could become world reserve currency MORE (Ky.), both likely Republican presidential contenders, drew criticism for saying that parents should have some choice in whether they vaccinate their children.
Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate Democrats propose corporate minimum tax for spending package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Budget negotiators: 72 hours and counting Democrats face critical 72 hours MORE (D-Mass.), without naming Paul, brought up a phrase he had used last week. Paul said that he knew of children who developed "profound mental disorders" after vaccination, before later saying that he was not implying causation.
At the hearing Tuesday, Warren asked Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization at the CDC, "Is there any scientific evidence that vaccines cause profound mental disorders?"
Schuchat replied "No," before adding that some of the diseases themselves can cause mental disorders.
Paul, a member of the committee, had not been in attendance an hour and a half into the hearing. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why he was absent.
Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFunding for victims of 'Havana syndrome' to be included in Pentagon bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination MORE (R-Maine) not only urged vaccination but raised concerns about a $50 million proposed cut in President Obama's budget to a CDC vaccination program.
"It’s puzzling to me that the administration would propose to cut this program when we’re in the midst of a measles outbreak," Collins said.
The White House argues that ObamaCare reduces the need for funding for the program by providing free preventive care that will mean the cost of vaccines is no longer charged to the program as much.
Schuchat, though, under questioning from Mikulski said that the cuts could have an effect.
"I can’t say that those reductions will have no impact," Schuchat said, before adding that the CDC would try to address the cuts by trying "to really increase the billing of insurance."
"I think this is a valid area of inquiry and bipartisan cooperation," Mikulski said.
Senators repeatedly pushed Schuchat to make clear that a 1998 study linking vaccines to autism has been discredited.
"Vaccines don’t cause autism. They are highly effective and safe," Schuchat said. "One thing we know is that vaccines don’t cause autism."
She said the previous decline of some of these diseases had led to complacency about the need for vaccinations.
"The increase in measles cases should be seen as a wake-up call," she said.