Health News

HHS Nominee Rejects Claims that Vaccines Cause Autism

Rep. Tom Price is facing scrutiny from Senate Democrats over his stock trades, taxes and plans to replace former President Barack Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act. But during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee he also faced questions about false information that has been spread regarding vaccines, HIV and leprosy.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., asked Price, a Republican from Georgia and former orthopedic surgeon, a series of questions that he said aimed to discover whether Price would rely on science and "swiftly and unequivocally" debunk false claims if he is confirmed as health secretary.

Likely to rouse the most attention was the question about whether vaccines cause autism.

President Donald Trump, who nominated Price for the health secretary role, has in the past advanced the false claim that vaccines cause autism. After the election, Trump met with vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr., who told reporters he had been asked to lead a commission on vaccine safety. The Trump transition disputed the claim, saying no decision had been made, but said that they were considering creating a committee on autism.Menendez turned to other questions about scientific controversies during the hearing, including whether HIV causes AIDS.

"The scientific evidence is clear that HIV and AIDS are clinically directed," Price answered.

Price appeared confused about why the question was being asked.

"I don't know what you're referring to," he said, "but I suspect that there are instances where individuals have an infectious disease and they come to the United States."

Menendez pressed him, "There are statements that have been made in the public domain that immigrants have led to outbreaks in the United States. ... In your medical opinion is there such a causation?"

"Anytime you get two individuals together in any relationship whatsover– whether an immigrant or a visitor – and one individual has an infectious disease then it is possible that that individual transmits that infectious disease, whether it's the flu or a cold," Price said.

Toward the end of this particular line of questioning Menendez said he was "taken aback" by the answer but didn't explain why.

The Senate Finance Committee is set to vote on whether Price's nomination should proceed to the full chamber.

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