Leading Republicans say vaccines should be delayed

Candidates barely mentioned the ACA

Josh Zeitlin, Associate Editor

On Wednesday night, CNN hosted the second official primary debate for the GOP presidential nomination, featuring the 11 candidates who ranked highest in recent national polls.

Our recap of the first debate

Foreign policy was the main focus of the debate—but with its runtime of more than three hours, the candidates clashed on several health care topics as well, although the Affordable Care Act went mostly unmentioned. Here are three of the key health care moments from Wednesday's debate.

1. Two doctors and Donald Trump argued over vaccines and autism

The leading GOP candidate in the polls, Donald Trump, was pressed on his past comments linking vaccines to autism. (The debate was held in California, the site of a recent measles outbreak.)

While he said he is "totally in favor of vaccines," Trump wants "smaller doses over a longer period of time." He brought up the story of a young child who he said "went to have the vaccine ... and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."

JAMA: There's no association between MMR vaccine and autism

Moderator Jake Tapper also asked the two doctors in the race for their take.

Ben Carson—the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, who is just behind Trump at 2nd in the polls—pushed back against Trump linking vaccines and autism.

"We have extremely well-documented proof," Carson said, "that there's no autism associated with vaccinations."

Carson backed requiring vaccines that "prevent death or crippling," but said "there should be some discretion" for others. But he added that "we are probably giving way too many [vaccines] in too short a period of time.

When Tapper asked Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky)—an ophthalmologist—to give a "second opinion," Paul also endorsed allowing parents to space out vaccines. "Even if the science doesn't say bunching them up is a problem," Paul said, "I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least."

(As Julia Belluz reports for Vox, most researchers say the setup of the vaccine schedule doesn't pose a health threat—but that spreading out vaccines can decrease their effectiveness.) 

IOM deems childhood vaccine schedule safe

2. Should the government shut down over Planned Parenthood?

The candidates also clashed over whether congressional Republicans should be willing to shut down the government with the intention of stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood in the wake of a series of videos in which the organization's staff discuss fetal tissue donation.

All the candidates who spoke on the issue said that Planned Parenthood should not receive any funding. But they split on what the current strategy should be. Gov. John Kasich (Ohio) opposed a potential shutdown, noting that President Obama would veto any defunding bill, while Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said a shutdown should be on the table.  

3. How marijuana, other drugs should be treated

The candidates also split on their approaches to marijuana, both medical and recreational. Paul said that the issue should be left to the states, and cited the potential benefit of medical marijuana to help individuals suffering from seizures.

Hospitals apply to become medical marijuana distributors

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie (New Jersey) cited concerns about marijuana being used "as a gateway drug," but backed medical marijuana. And former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said that she "agree[s] with Senator Paul" on states' rights, but said "we are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It's not."

Several of the candidates also brought up the larger issue of drug misuse, with former Gov. Jeb Bush (Florida) calling for more treatment and prevention to combat "the epidemic of heroin." Fiorina said the issue is personal for her, noting that she has "buried a child to drug addiction." She added, "We must invest more in the treatment of drugs."

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