How do you know that a real-live human being is behind the past 14 weeks of blog posts exploring the individual questions posed to presidential candidates by Because people make mistakes. Last week I inadvertently posted the vaccine answers to the analysis about rare earth elements. Thanks to sijodk for politely pointing out the error. It was a case of cutting-and-pasting the wrong section into the post and then, because I was rushing, not reviewing the final product. I have now corrected the mistake on last week's post so that it's entirely about rare earths.

Scientific American's analysis of the vaccine answers by Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama appear below.

Question #14. Vaccination and public health. Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective, but in some communities vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?


Mitt Romney's Response:

The first priority must be to ensure that America has adequate supplies of safe and effective vaccines. Making vaccines requires complex facilities and highly skilled workers, which means that America must continue to strengthen its advanced manufacturing capabilities.

Second, preventing outbreaks of these diseases also requires that these vaccines are used effectively. The vaccines only work to prevent outbreaks when a sufficient number of people are protected from the diseases and thus able to stop a bug from spreading from one person to the next, which means that the vast majority of Americans need to take steps to receive vaccinations.

Finally, America must have a robust research and development enterprise capable of constantly improving on the tools available to prevent these diseases. That means taking steps to ensure that America remains the most attractive place to develop and commercialize innovative, life-saving products like vaccines. The issue of medical innovation has arisen at several points throughout this survey, underscoring its importance to America’s scientific and economic leadership in the coming years. America has historically dominated the field, but uncompetitive policies in areas ranging from taxation to regulation to trade and human capital are threatening that leadership. Recent years have seen an unprecedented exodus of investment from the United States to more innovation-friendly markets. My innovation agenda, detailed above, is aimed at reversing that tide.

Barack Obama's Response:

Today, there are too many Americans who do not get the preventive health care services they need to stay healthy. Many people put off preventive care because the deductibles and copays are too expensive. That’s why I fought for the Affordable Care Act, which will make sure all Americans have access to quality preventive health care services. Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans can now get vital preventive services – including the full suite of routine vaccines recommend by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – with no co-pay or deductible. The health care law also created the Prevention and Public Health Fund, an investment in promoting wellness, preventing disease, and investing in public health infrastructure across the country. It will help us transform our health care system from a focus on sickness and disease to a focus on prevention and wellness. The law also proves authority to states to purchase adult vaccines with state funds at federally-negotiated prices, supporting state vaccination programs. Ultimately, I believe the health care law is a significant step forward in ensuring that every American has access to the preventive care and immunizations that they need to stay healthy.

SA declared the candidates’ answers a tie on this question for the following reasons:

ROMNEY correctly notes that the “vaccines only work to prevent outbreaks when a sufficient number of people are protected from the diseases” but offers no solutions to increase vaccination rates. He focuses on business aspects of making and researching vaccines and scores higher on feasibility but loses credit for not answering the question completely.

OBAMA uses the question as a springboard to talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was enacted into law in 2010. He accurately notes that the ACA is expanding access to preventive health care services, including vaccines. Yet he ignores a major reason why vaccine rates are falling in some communities—the erroneous belief that vaccines might cause autism.


To read the candidates’ answers to all 14 questions, click here. To find out how Scientific American rated all the answers, click here. (SA’s full analysis of the responses, along with a terrific article by Shawn Lawrence Otto on “America’s Science Problem,” appeared in the November issue, which we released last week.)

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