In a pair of interviews conducted this past week with Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s The Lead and CNN correspondent Chris Cuomo, Dr. Ben Carson said that the lack of immunizations and poor screening of immigrants entering the country illegally are two of the root causes of the measles outbreak sweeping the United States.
These comments come at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying the United States experienced a record number of measles cases in all of 2014 with 644 cases diagnosed across 27 states – the greatest number of cases since the CDC began documenting measles elimination in the U.S. in 2000.
This past week, CDC Director Tom Frieden warned that measles outbreaks in the U.S. are continuing unabated with 102 cases reported in 14 states during the month of January, 2015 – a number that will exceed 2014’s total cases at the present rate.
Dr. Carson, former Director Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and possible 2016 presidential candidate, said the U.S. should be “doubly vigilant” about vaccinating children due to the dangers of an open border – especially in California – a destination for many illegal immigrants where vaccination rates for American citizens are comparatively low.
Carson also said the measles vaccination should be mandatory as a way to eradicate the disease. “We should not allow… diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” Carson said.
What some saw as an attempt to generate sparks among possible republican presidential candidates, Carson was asked about comments attributed to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on vaccines and the onset of mental conditions like autism in an interview with CNBC’s Closing Bell. Carson didn’t take the bait saying instead that:
“I listened to what he said and I think perhaps it’s not exactly being portrayed the way he meant it.
“You know, if you were to talk to him, I’m sure he would tell you that vaccines are very, very important, have made a tremendous difference in our society, it’s a public health issue, and I’m sure he would be very supportive of him. He’s simply saying we don’t want to be forced; we want to have some choice.”
Tapper asked Carson if the measles outbreak in California was “because the people in California have been given the option of opting out”… and “they’re not getting their kids immunized.”
Carson said the infection rate in California “is a good example of what happens. We (also) have to account for the fact that we now have people coming into the country, sometimes undocumented people, who perhaps have diseases that we had under control.”
Cuomo pursued this line of attack in a second interview when he asked if he (Carson) was trying to turn the measles debate into an immigration debate. In response, Carson said:
“I’m not trying to make it into any particular argument. I’m stating what the facts are”… and “the facts are that there are people in our country who have become lax in terms of their vigilance, getting their kids immunized, and we have people coming in who are not necessarily being properly screened. That’s not making it an issue, it’s stating facts.”
“It’s not to prejudice anybody, but we have to deal with reality, and if you have people coming into your country who have not been properly screened, who have not had the same kind of care as people in this country, I don’t think you have to be a genius to figure out that that could introduce some communicable probl