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Allison Colburn
By Allison Colburn September 26, 2017

Trump’s HHS secretary, in charge of vaccination schedule, has no clear stance

Before and during his campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly linked vaccines to autism, despite the fact that the claim has been debunked.

At a 2015 Republican presidential candidate debate, CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked Trump how, if elected, he would handle overseeing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health, which both disagree with his stance on vaccinations.

Trump responded: "Autism has become an epidemic… I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time."

When it comes to the vaccination schedule, the White House has limited control.

Federal recommendations on the schedule are chosen through the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Members on the committee must go through a rigorous application process and are ultimately appointed to four-year terms by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department secretary, a position currently held by former U.S. Rep. Tom Price.

Even though the CDC's immunization schedule could possibly have some influence on state laws, the schedule and other CDC recommendations are not federal requirements.

As of February 2017, all states require immunizations as a condition of enrollment in public school and, in many cases, private school. However, depending on the state, parents can exempt their children from immunizations for medical or philosophical reasons.

In response to a question about implementing federal immunization requirements during his tenure, Price acknowledged in March that state governments tend to make those decisions, but evaded a question about whether vaccines should be required.

"I believe it's a perfectly appropriate role for the government -- this happens, by and large, at the state government level, because they're the ones that have the public health responsibility -- to determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population," Price said during a CNN town hall event.

It is unclear where Price stands on vaccines. He agreed during his confirmation hearing that science has debunked the autism link, but he has also been a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that believes in a link between vaccines and autism.

Because the federal government doesn't decide state immunization laws, changes to the CDC vaccination schedule won't necessarily result in any changes to vaccination requirements. Price could end up having some influence on the vaccination schedule through his Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices member appointments. But terms on the 15-member committee are staggered, meaning Price could only select a few members per presidential term.

It will be difficult for Trump to implement this promise, and we've seen no indication that Trump or Price intends to aggressively push for it. Since we've found no action on this promise, for now we rate it Stalled.

Our Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "State School Immunization Requirements and Vaccine Exemption Laws," February 2017

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Application for Membership, February 2016

CNN, Transcript of second 2016 Republican presidential candidate debate, Sept. 16, 2015

CNN, "DHHS Secretary Tom Price in Town Hall Meeting on Health Care," Mar. 15, 2017

C-SPAN, "Health and Human Services Secretary Confirmation Hearing," Jan. 24, 2017

PolitiFact, "Megyn Kelly: Measles vaccine safety is settled science," Feb. 3, 2015

Washington Post, "Tom Price belongs to a doctors group with unorthodox views on government and health care," Feb. 9, 2017

Trump Twitter archive, Tweets about vaccines, accessed Sept. 25, 2017


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