David Kirby, a proponent of the vaccine theory, called McCain's comments "an inspiration and comfort." But many have criticized them. Leaders of the National Physicians Alliance call them "irresponsible" and warn that he is undermining confidence in vaccination itself. "Would a President McCain take us forward or backward in preventing deaths from measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis, influenza and more? The National Physicians Alliance calls on all political leaders to use great caution with public statements likely to spur panic and fear." A blogger argues that there is no evidence for the vaccine theory. "Politicians such as McCain are very efficient at giving voters what they want. If he wants to be a responsible leader, he should not buy into such flagrant untruths. Unfortunately, as long as there are voters who need to believe those untruths, other politicians will follow suit."
Both sides are reading far too much into off-the-cuff remarks. The line about "strong evidence" was an overstatement. He did not repeat it when the issue came up at another town meeting shortly afterward. The latter answer, in which he stressed the need to improve research and education, was consistent with statements that he had made in 2007. His campaign website offers a more formal version:
John McCain understands that despite the federal and scientific research efforts
to date, the exact causes of autism are not yet known and greater research is
needed to understand this disorder. That is why in November 2007, he joined with
Senator Lieberman in requesting the leadership of the Senate Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal research into
autism, to hold a hearing on federal research efforts regarding factors
affecting incidence and treatment in order to help determine where research
efforts can best be directed. As President, John McCain will work to advance
federal research into autism, promote early screening, and identify better
treatment options, while providing support for children with autism so that they
may reach their full potential.
Barack Obama is saying something similar:
Barack Obama believes that we can do more to help autistic Americans and their
families understand and live with autism. He has been a strong supporter of more
than $1 billion in federal funding for autism research on the root causes and
treatments, and he believes that we should increase funding for the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act to truly ensure that no child is left behind.
And so is Hillary Clinton:
Hillary has long been a strong advocate for individuals and families impacted by
autism. As Senator, she cosponsored the Combating Autism Act and introduced the
Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act, in order to ensure that
Americans living with autism could have access as quickly as possible to
evidence-based treatments, interventions, and services. She has a record of
supporting full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,
through which children with autism and other disabilities are eligible to
receive special education services.
Clinton goes on to offer a bit more detail than the others. But on this issue, the candidates do not differ in any fundamental way.