HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Arguments over the whether its safe to give children vaccines ramped up again as a result of last week's GOP presidential debate.
Donald Trump argued that autism has become an epidemic, suggesting vaccines and the rate at which they are given might have someone to do with that. Dr. Ben Carson echoed that sentiment.
Dr. Peter Hotez is the President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, The director of Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development, and is also is the U.S Science Envoy for The White House. He was previously appointed by Governor Rick Perry to a task force that focused on Ebola. He says this is a much greater threat: bad information about childhood vaccines coming from those who want to be the next president.
"The changes that occur in the brain of a child with autism begin in the first and second trimester. (They) are more or less finished in the first or second trimester of pregnancy. So that something like a vaccine would have absolutely no impact of causing autism," Hotze said.
Hotez has a unique perspective on this issue. Not only is he one of the world's leading vaccine researchers, he has a daughter who has autism. Rachel is now 22 years old. He calls caring for a child with autism an enormous emotional and financial strain. But Hotez insists that science is science and says that research has proven no connection between vaccines and autism. He even balks at suggestions that giving vaccinations over a longer period of time would be a benefit.
"So it just absolutely makes no sense," he said.
The problem, he concludes, is fallout. And parents are listening to presidential candidates and even celebrities like Jenny McCarthy make anti-vaccine claims.
The result: an astounding number of "personal belief" exemptions filed in Texas for children entering school.
"41,000 - that's one of the largest numbers in the nation, "said Hotez.
Numbers recently released from the Centers for Disease Control put Texas at the bottom of the list of states with fully immunized children under age five: just 64 percent.
"What we're moving towards, is a very dangerous situation," said Hotez.
Dr. Hotez wrote more about his unique perspective as both a vaccinologist and the father of a daughter with autism.
All this said, there are certainly still parents who think the risks outweigh the protections gained through vaccines.
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