Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
During the second GOP debate, Dr. Ben Carson backed up previous PolitiFact rulings when he said there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.
But the retired pediatric neurosurgeon kept going and prompted another fact-check on the topic when he suggested that there are a "multitude" of vaccines that might not be necessary.
"Vaccines are very important. Certain ones," Carson said. "The ones that would prevent death or crippling. There are others, there are a multitude of vaccines which probably don't fit in that category, and there should be some discretion in those cases."
We contacted Carson’s campaign to see what vaccines he meant and his source but did not receive a response.
Based on context, in which the candidates were talking about the shots given to children, we decided to look at the vaccines on the childhood schedule supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and our neighbors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends a series of shots to protect children against 15 infectious diseases. They are measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), polio, influenza (flu), rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease.
Most everyone likely knows about measles, the flu and the two types of hepatitis – and that all of those diseases can be deadly.
But of the others, are any not lethal or, at the least, not crippling?
Hardly. Several experts told us no such disease is prevented by those on the childhood immunization schedule.
"Every one of those can kill or cripple or maim you," said Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrics professor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and one of three inventors of the rotavirus vaccine.
And just what is rotavirus? Think of it as a particularly nasty stomach flu – one estimated to have killed 453,000 children under the age of 5 in 2008, most in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Mumps – Death is rare, and happens usually in adults. But complications of childhood mumps include deafness and sterility in both genders.
Rubella – A relatively mild virus that usually leads to severe birth defects and blindness and can cause miscarriage and stillbirth in expectant mothers.
Chicken pox – Another relatively mild virus that killed 100-150 children annually before vaccines.
Diphtheria – Once a major cause of death among U.S. children – including a record 15,520 in 1921 and the terror behind the original Iditarod sled-dog race in Alaska, this powerful disease killed a 6-year-old boy in Spain last year.
Tetanus – This bacteria kills up to 20 percent of those infected, with many suffering from spasms severe enough to break bones.
Whooping cough – A brutal disease that killed 20 in 2012, including 15 infants too young for the vaccine. The World Health Organization estimates it caused 89,000 deaths worldwide in 2012.
HPV – The more controversial of all vaccines, largely because it prevents a sexually transmitted virus that can cause several types of cancer which can be deadly, even with treatment.
HiB – A bacteria that can cause several invasive diseases, including meningitis, which that killed about 1,000 American children annually before vaccines. In 2008, it killed an estimated 199,000 children worldwide.
Pneumococcal disease – One of the leading causes of illness in children that kills about 5 percent of those infected and leaves some survivors with permanent injury.
"I would bet that any single one of these vaccines have saved more children than the number of lives Ben Carson has saved as a neurosurgeon," said Dr. Adam Lauring, a professor at the University of Michigan medical school who specializes in infectious diseases.
"Because we don’t see many of these diseases anymore, they are almost perceived as inconveniences," Lauring continued. "But fact is, people do die of these diseases and we have forgotten that because we haven’t seen them."
When they do appear, such as with last year’s measles outbreak, they are far less lethal disease than in year’s past.
But that is likely a testament to technology and more ready access to healthcare than the fact the diseases remain incapacitating, said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and director of a project on vaccine ethics and policy.
"High-tech medicine to pull you through but you still wouldn’t want to try to survive pneumonia in an artificial respirator in an ICU for weeks," Caplan said. "It’s still devastating."
Ben Carson, one of two medical doctors running for the GOP nomination, said during the second Republican debate that there is a "multitude" of vaccines for diseases that are not deadly or disabling.
The diseases targeted by the vaccines recommended for children on a set schedule, however, are nearly universally lethal.
The one obvious exception, rubella, is a disfiguring disease that can lead to birth defects.
A medical doctor would surely know that.
We rate Carson’s claim False.
Ben Carson, GOP Debate, Sept. 16, 2015
PolitiFact Georgia, "Anti-vaccine claim rooted in bad science, confusion," Feb. 11, 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vaccine Guide for Parents, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Multiple vaccines and the immune system, Aug. 28, 2015
World Health Organization, Estimated rotavirus deaths for children under 5 years of age, January 2012
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mumps vaccine, February 2013
The History of Vaccines, Rubella, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chickenpox Can Be Serious, Aug. 21, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Diphtheria, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
Yahoo News, "6-year-old dies in Spain’s first diphtheria case since 1987," June 27, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Tetanus, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Pertussis/Whooping cough, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Human Papillomavirus Infection, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), accessed Sept. 17, 2015
World Health Organization, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) disease burden, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
The History of Vaccines, Pneumococcal Disease, accessed Sept. 17, 2015
Phone interview, Dr. Paul Offit, Professor of pediatrics, division of infectious diseases, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Sept. 17, 2015
Phone interview, Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, Sept. 17, 2015
Phone interview, Dr. Adam Lauring, assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases, University of Michigan Medical School, Sept. 17, 2015
Read About Our Process
"This virus is a distraction from the truth. Coming through Pennsylvania and stopped at a store and they have stopped selling gun ammo until further notice and all the cases are full so it’s not like they have run out. ... The numbers are nothing compared to H1N1 or Ebola. Everyone needs to realize our government is up to something and we are dumb enough to believe what you see on TV or on Facebook."
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.