The President-elect's transition team is walking back Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s claim yesterday that he had been tapped to head a committee on the safety of vaccines. Instead, they say, Trump's meeting with Kennedy on a very busy day is related to a commission on autism that the soon-to-be head of state would like to establish.
Kennedy's misapprehension, plus Trump's past statements about routine vaccinations, are causing alarm among health experts who worry this is another sign of an official turning back on science in favor of conspiracy theories and junk research. They worry Kennedy's non-credible claims, plus long-since-debunked studies that purport to connect autism with vaccines or a preservative in vaccines, will put the public at risk.
Trump is not above playing fast and loose with science. He has stated publicly, for instance, that "global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Kennedy, a vaccine skeptic who has equated routine immunizations for potentially devastating childhood illnesses like polio and mumps with "child abuse," told reporters Trump had doubts about current vaccine policies.
"His opinion doesn't matter but the science does matter, and we ought to be reading the science, and we ought to be debating the science," Kennedy told the press pool outside Trump Towers in New York. "And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have—he's very pro-vaccine, as am I—but they're as safe as they possibly can be."
'His opinion doesn't matter but the science does matter ...'
The Trump team acknowledged the two met and said Trump is exploring the idea of forming a commission on autism. "However, no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals."
Since 2005, Kennedy has often returned to the idea that thimerisol, which had been used as a preservative in vaccines, was the silver bullet that caused autism. The safety of thimerisol has been established time and again through research and meta-studies of vaccines that did and did not contain the ingredient. Still, the myth persists.
During his campaign, Trump settled on an idea that the vaccine schedule is a possible culprit for autism, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's protocols, which most pediatricans follow, has also been found to be safe. In a 2015 presidential primary debate, the then-candidate argued against science saying, "You take this little beautiful baby and you pump ... We had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
The Scientific American lays out the history of Kennedy's objections to vaccines and it's connection to Andrew Wakefield's completely discredited and retracted study based on false data. An NPR report laid out the serious consequences of the public's mistrust of vaccines and their safety. In the last few years, parts of the country where the vaccine rates are the lowest have had to fight outbreaks of whooping cough, meningitis and measles.
Two years ago, a measles outbreak was linked to an unvaccinated visitor exposing eight other vistors to Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif. Only one of the eight who were infected had been vaccinated for measles. Of those unvaccinated, two were too young to get the shots.
Last year, three college campuses experienced an outbreak of meningitis, also preventable through childhood vaccines, leading to the death of a unveristy employee. And whooping cough has also made a comeback.
In some affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, San Diego and New York City, rates of vaccination are alarmingly low, leaving others to wonder whether the herd immunity will be strong enough to act as public protection.