There is a big difference between what he said and what he said he said. That is what this story boils down to. Rand Paul gave in interview where he talked about vaccines and said that he had heard of cases where kids had developed “profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated. After the interview and resulting backlash, he tried to “clarify” his statement by saying that what he really meant was that he heard other people believed that vaccines caused disorders. There is a big difference between the two, so how does Rand Paul expect people to believe him? Maybe he is banking on the fact that he is a doctor. Except Rand Paul is not a doctor, so why should we listen to him on vaccines at all?
The day before the interview which garnered him outraged headlines, the Washington Post ran a story explaining the Kentucky senator became a self-certified ophthalmologist. The story can essentially be boiled down to one young man throwing a fit. According to the story, he was angry that younger doctors had to take a re-certification test while doctors who had certified before 1992 and received a lifetime certification (which was the standard at the time) would not. As a former board member of the American Board of Ophthalmology explained, the lifetime certification had been awarded and the board could not legally revoke that status.
The young Paul flipped his lid, took all his toys and said, “Fine, I’ll play over here by myself.” His “National Board of Ophthalmology” was initially comprised only of family members, some of which were not even in the field. Other young ophthalmologists joined him and took the test which he created himself, but the organization lapsed and was dissolved in 2000 because Paul missed a filing deadline. With shoddy oversight, management and questionable membership, Paul’s board seems more than a little shady.
To put this incident in perspective, Paul was angry because things were not “fair.” Never mind the fact that legally there was nothing the American Board of Ophthalmology could do. The young Mr. Paul felt wronged so he did not certify with the authoritative body and instead created his own sketchy version of a certification board. By all accounts, he seems to be a competent doctor and surgeon, but he is not certified by a recognized board. For all anyone knows, he could be deficient in any of the skills an ophthalmologist should have and no on would have told him he was wrong because he did not take the certification test.
So Rand Paul is technically a doctor, but he could be dangerous and no one would know it because he decided to throw a tantrum about something that no one could change anyway. Paul’s libertarian streak that leads him to “stick it to the man” might actually lead to bodily harm at some point. The question of his status as a doctor boils down to the question of safety over fairness, which is also the argument raging over vaccines.
Once again, Rand Paul has found himself coming down on the side of freedom at the expense of safety, which he is perfectly free to do. In fact, some of Paul’s arguments about vaccines hit pretty close to what many people think about the issue. He has said that he fully supports vaccines, but that he does not believe they should be mandatory because that would violate people’s freedom. Fair enough. That in itself is not controversial. Finding a balance between safety and freedom is one of the roles of public discourse and he has a reasonable stance. But he also seems to believe that vaccines cause “profound mental disorders.”
In the CNBC interview which started this whole debacle for Paul, he said this sentence: “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” There are no subtle implications or hidden messages in this sentence. Rand Paul said he believed that some children got things like autism from vaccines. He thought that was “tragic.” And it was part of his reasoning for wanting to keep vaccines voluntary.
After the resultant outrage from parents, educated persons and the medical establishment, Paul has tried to tell people that he did not say that. He tried to say that he was referring to people who believed that, but he himself did not. He was obviously taken out of context. Except that he was not. He said that he had heard that vaccines caused autism and he used that as a basis for his political stance on the matter. He should not be allowed to back away from that now.
Rand Paul’s vaccination stance and the story of how he self-certified as an ophthalmologist have a connection beyond just proving that he is not a safe doctor. It is that problem of safety or freedom which he has decided on time and again. Medical boards and vaccines are born out of the same type of idea: prevention. Both are meant to keep people safe by stopping any problems before they hurt someone else. They are an excellent idea in practice and people enjoy the safety of their physicians and their health because of this principle.
The libertarian from Kentucky, on the other hand, is not willing to engage in any kind of preventative care. He proved that when he threw a fit at the certification board. He is proving it again with his stance on vaccines. Paul may not have endangered any of his patients as far as anyone knows. After all, he has been called an excellent surgeon by those who have worked with him. But that does not mean that he has not run the risk of harm. In the case of vaccines, harm has already been done. Anti-vaccers bear at least some responsibility for the outbreaks of measles and mumps that are going on in the United States right now. Arguing that they should be allowed to opt out of vaccinating their children because freedom is tantamount to saying they should be allowed to endanger other innocent children with impunity.
The vaccination debate is a tough issue because it does ask people to balance freedom with safety and no one wants to say that someone’s freedom should be taken away. But Paul’s argument is perhaps too simplistic. The real question should perhaps be whether to protect anti-vaccers freedom or protect the lives of children who will be endangered by anti-vaccers. Freedom of choice or that sacred right of life? Overall, Rand Paul is not a certified doctor and he has shown that this is enough to warrant people not listen to his opinion on vaccines. He has already proven that he will prioritize his “freedom” over someone else’s life every time.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury