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Republican Party Takes On The Politics Of Vaccinations In Wake Of Measles Outbreak

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A measles outbreak has suddenly become the hot issue among potential presidential candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

It has also triggered a new nationwide debate about vaccines, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported Tuesday.

Measles was virtually eliminated in the United States 15 years ago, but now 14 states have 102 cases, including three in New York.

That has triggered a debate in the Republican Party on the politics of vaccines, led by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

"I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines," Paul said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there's no evidence vaccines cause such disorders. All 50 states require children get their shots, but 48 allow exemptions for religious or psychological reasons, Brennan reported.

"I don't know that we need another law, but I do believe that all children ought be vaccinated," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Christie seemed to walk a fine line on Monday.

"All I can say is that we vaccinated ours. That's the best expression I can give you of my opinion," Christie said, "but I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well."

Christie's office later clarified his comments, saying "There is no question kids should be vaccinated."

"Republicans tend to believe a little bit more in the rights of parents to make decisions over their children," CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz said. "But in the end it is overwhelming among both political parties that vaccinations are important if not essential to keeping their children safe and healthy."

However, the vaccination debate goes beyond politics.

"There are a lot of people who are allowed these sort of personal belief exemptions. Places in Beverly Hills, some of these private schools and things, they have vaccination rates that are the equivalent to third world countries in Africa," CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez said.

As far as concern for the measles outbreak goes on the local level, Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel-Ruppert said the outbreak highlights just how easily the virus spreads.

"We have a child come in, into a room, who is spraying droplets, you know, coughing, sneezing, and the droplets actually stay in the air for two hours after that child exits the room," she told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

Rockland County Health Comm. Highlights How Easily Measles Can Spread

Some of the hostility toward vaccination came from a 1998 British study linking it to autism, but the study was deemed fraudulent and doctor was stripped of his medical license.

Since then, 16 studies, covering millions of vaccinated kids, have found no linkage, but Schnabel-Ruppert said some parents still have fears.

"No scientific studies have proven that that is the case at all, but people still are unsure," she said.

Measles is a respiratory infection accompanied by a rash. It can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis; one to two out of every 1,000 cases could be fatal.

A case of the measles has been confirmed in Dutchess County, and the sick person was on an Amtrak train, the New York State Department of Health announced Friday.

The laboratory-confirmed measles case was discovered at Bard College in Dutchess County, the department said. The department said the person with the disease was also on Amtrak train No. 283 from Penn Station to Albany and Niagara Falls, which left at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25.

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