FACT CHECK: Rand Paul backtracks on vaccines, college

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2015 5:37 AM
FACT CHECK: Rand Paul backtracks on vaccines, college

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky eyes a presidential race, he's likely to face questions about several contested or disproven statements he has made on various subjects. Here's a sample:

VACCINES

While a measles outbreak was spurring new calls for vaccinations, Paul said in a Feb. 2 TV interview: "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines."

Pediatric groups called the remarks irresponsible, saying the benefits of child vaccines greatly outweigh the risk. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, says vaccines are not free from adverse effects, "but most are very rare or very mild."

The next day Paul, an ophthalmologist, said he wasn't implying a direct link between vaccines and profound mental disorders.

"I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related," he said. "I did not allege causation. I support vaccines."

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AID TO ISRAEL

Campaigning for a Nebraska Republican in August, Paul sparred with reporters who asked about his earlier calls to end foreign aid to all countries, including Israel.

"I haven't really proposed that in the past," he said. "You can mistake my position, but then I'll answer the question. That has not been a position, a legislative position, we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel's aid."

But in 2011, Paul proposed a budget that would end all foreign aid, including that for Israel. He defended the position in an ABC News interview at the time. He called Israel an important ally but added: "Should we be giving free money or welfare to a rich nation? I don't think so."

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COLLEGE DEGREE

Speaking at a conference last Thursday, Paul twice said he had a college degree in biology.

When another panelist claimed a degree in economics, Paul said with a smile, "mine's in biology and English, so this is going to be a great conversation." He later said, "I have a biology degree, OK?"

Paul attended Baylor University in the 1980s, but left without a degree. Nonetheless, he was accepted at Duke University's highly regarded medical school, where he earned a degree.

His staff said Paul "was referring to his medical degree." An M.D. "is a biology degree," they said. The senator "never said he had an undergraduate degree in biology, and it is accurate for him to say that he has a biology degree."

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McCAIN IN SYRIA

Paul said that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, while meeting in Syria with Free Syrian Army leaders in 2013, also met with representatives of the so-called Islamic State group, including leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He cited a purported photo of the meeting as evidence. But news organizations concluded the photo was a fake.

Nonetheless, Paul repeated his claim, angering McCain and his friends. Longtime McCain aide Mark Salter wrote: "Rand Paul either still believes the falsehood, which makes him a fool, or he has decided to defame a man who suffered greatly for his country."

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EBOLA

Campaigning in New Hampshire in October, at the height of worries about people bringing the deadly Ebola virus from West Africa to the United States, Paul told Concord News Radio the disease "is something that appears to be very easy to catch ... This is an incredibly contagious disease."

Paul made similar remarks on Laura Ingraham's radio show, where he referred to U.S. troops sent to West Africa to combat Ebola. "We also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship," he said. Noting that viruses sometimes spread widely on crowded cruise ships, Paul said, "Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers gets Ebola?"

Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health dismissed the remarks. "That's really not a concern," Fauci said on CBS's "Face the Nation." U.S. troops, he said, "will not be in direct risk in the sense of contact with individuals."

Paul's aides say the senator's concerns are legitimate. They cite Centers for Disease Control guidelines saying there is "some risk" in having close contact with an Ebola patient showing symptoms. The CDC says "close contact" includes being present "for a prolonged period of time, while not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, within approximately 3 feet" of the symptomatic patient.