Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Kennedy said Trump put him in charge of a commission on “vaccine safety. “
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Kennedy said Trump put him in charge of a commission on “vaccine safety. ”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a skeptic of childhood vaccinations, will be heading up a Donald Trump-requested commission on vaccine safety and “scientific integrity,” he told reporters at Trump Tower in New York after meeting with Trump Tuesday.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies,” Kennedy said, according to a pool report, “and he has questions about it. 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. 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. ”
Kennedy, who said the goal is “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects,” noted that Trump requested the meeting. Trump happened to take the meeting on one of the busiest days in politics in one of the busiest weeks in politics since the presidential election. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, is sitting for the first of two days of hearings that questioning past allegations of racism and highlighting where he differs from the president-elect.
Meantime, there is another hearing happening related to Russian hacking and interference into the U. S. election at which the director of national intelligence and the director of the FBI — whom Hillary Clinton blames, in part for costing her the election — are testifying on Capitol Hill. They said definitively that Russia was behind the interference and had the intent of undermining American democracy and trying to get Trump elected. More than half a dozen other hearings are taking place in the coming days, including for Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state — a hearing that is sure to be a proxy fight with Trump on the U. S.’s relationship with Russia.
The Trump campaign has not responded to two emails from NPR for confirmation of the vaccine commission. Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of the late-Sen. Ted Kennedy, has been a high-profile environmental activist and lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. But he has also lent his name and prominence to a controversial cause of whether vaccines, specifically the preservative called Thimerosal, cause autism, for which there is no evidence within the scientific community.
Alarm among medical authorities
Kennedy’s announcement immediately provoked alarm among leading medical authorities. The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement reiterating “that vaccines protect children’s health and save lives. They prevent life-threatening diseases, including forms of cancer. Vaccines have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are the most significant medical innovation of our time. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives. ”
It’s a topic that has been hotly debated for two decades and has incited strong passions among some parents of children with autism. Out of these fears, some parents have decided to forego vaccinating their children. As a result, some parts of the country saw a measles outbreak in 2015. There were “more cases of measles in the first month of 2015 than the number that is typically diagnosed in a full year,” the New York Times noted. Of 34 California patients, 22 were of age to be vaccinated and never were; six were babies too young to be vaccinated, NPR reported. It spread to more than a dozen states.
Pushing conspiracies from the bully pulpit
Trump, who has peddled numerous conspiracies , picked up the anti-vaccine charge in a high-profile way in a September 2015 debate.
“You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child,” Trump said, “and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me. Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, 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. ”
But that link Trump tries to draw is simple, convenient and false.
Here was Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, in that same debate: “We have extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations. ”
As NPR’s Scott Horsley fact checked after that debate : “Trump said all he’s really advocating is that vaccines be spaced out over a longer period of time, though the American Academy of Pediatrics says there’s no evidence that’s necessary. ”
The academy noted in its statement Tuesday, “Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease. ”
The vaccine-to-autism link theory first came to prominence in 1997 with a now-discredited study in British journal, The Lancet , which was withdrawn in 2010. It was authored by a surgeon, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who has since lost his license to practice medicine. (More on that here .) That very researcher met with Trump last summer .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has categorically stated , “There is no link between vaccines and autism. ” As far as thimerosal specifically, the CDC wrote:
“Research shows that thimerosal does not cause ASD [autism spectrum disorder]. In fact, a 2004 scientific review by the IOM concluded that ‘the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.’ Since 2003, there have been nine CDC-funded or conducted studies that have found no link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and ASD, as well as no link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and ASD in children. ”
Most childhood vaccines have had just trace amounts of thimerosal in them for more than 15 years. The only ones that still have more in them are some flu vaccines. The CDC notes that the removal of thimerosal was done as a precaution and points out that there are flu vaccines without it also available.
What’s more, some research suggests that autism develops in the womb.