Anti-Vaccine Activist to Lead Immunization Safety Committee

Anti-Vaccine Activist to Lead Immunization Safety Committee

President-elect Donald Trump is the ultimate troll. Kudos to you, sir. Because I honestly cannot come up with any other logical explanation to his meeting with Robert F. Kennedy Jr on January 10.

Nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s latest claim to fame is that Trump asked him to lead a new government commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Speaking with the press after his meeting, Kennedy told reporters Tuesday that he had accepted the invitation from Trump, as the President-elect “has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” and  that, “Everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have-- [Trump is] very pro-vaccine, as am I -- but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.” Considering that Trump has repeatedly suggested in debates and his updates on Twitter that there is a link between autism and childhood vaccinations, the assertion that Trump is pro-science, let alone pro-vaccine, is hard to believe.

A few hours after Kennedy told reporters the details of his meeting, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, refuted his claims. She announced that the President-elect was “exploring the possibility of forming a committee on autism, which affects so many families,” and added that no final decisions had been made. Unfortunately, the topic of autism and Kennedy’s description of his supposed new role is alarming, as it points towards an exploration of the insane conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism.

“It gives it a quasi-legitimacy that I frankly find frightening,” said William Shaffner, a professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. Putting together a commission on this topic shows that Trump and Kennedy are being fooled by long-discredited theories about vaccines.

An author, lawyer, radio host, environmental activist and a Democrat, Kennedy is also a leading figure in the anti-vaccine movement. Published by Rolling Stone and Salon.com in 2005, Kennedy wrote a controversial piece titled “Deadly Immunity,” which attempted to draw a link between a mercury-based preservation called thimerosal, used in some vaccines, and autism. Thimerosal is an antifungal agent used to preserve multi-dose vials of vaccine, but unfortunately, anti-vaxxers like Kennedy believe and perpetuate the insanity sparked by fraudulent Andrew Wakefield’s study that the MMR vaccine caused autism. After multiple corrections as scientists and experts stepped forward, the piece was eventually retracted.

It gets worse. Kennedy once compared the effects of vaccines to the Holocaust. In his Deadly Immunity story, he explains how he reluctantly came to his conclusions through his work as an environmentalist and attorney. Of course, he glosses over the part where he had to take the bar twice- didn’t pass the first time- and then a third time again after he was disbarred and fired for drug abuse and heroin possession. After studying the work of two whole “scientists” (read that in sarcasm font), Kennedy became convinced that he’d stumbled upon “a chilling case study of institutional arrogance, power and greed.” He believed that “our public health authorities knowingly allowed the pharmaceutical industry to poison an entire generation of American children, [and] their actions arguably constitute one of the biggest scandals in the annals of American medicine.”

For a Harvard, University of Virginia, and Pace University graduate, Kennedy displays unbelievable stupidity regarding this topic. His impressive credentials and great work in environmental activism unfortunately provided anti-vaxxers with more ammunition to perpetuate their ridiculous myth between vaccines and autism. To be fair, Kennedy has not published anything since his smackdowns from multiple doctors and scientists- well known Seth Mnookin being one of them- regarding his position on the matter, but he hasn’t stepped forward to say that he’s going to start following facts and admit that no such link exists either. In fact, back in 2015, he chose to testify against a California bill to block parents from being waived- based on personal beliefs- from the requirement that their children be vaccinated. Thankfully, this bill was passed despite his best efforts.

On Tuesday, Kennedy even went so far as to call into question the validity of numerous studies regarding vaccines. “His [Trump’s] 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.” Debating the science? How? Why? There is nothing to debate.

"Vaccines have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are the most significant medical innovation of our time," Doctors Fernando Stein and Karen Remley of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement Tuesday.

It just baffles me that this is still an ongoing theory, especially after the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) - you know, the folks whose livelihood is devoted to protecting populations from infections, viruses, and disease and specialize in this sort of thing- stated explicitly that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Unfortunately, Trump has gone on record saying that autism has become an epidemic and describes the story of a two-year-old child of one of his employees, who became autistic just after receiving an immunization.

"The science has spoken. Thimerosal is a dead issue," said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a critic of anti-vaccine groups. Research has gone on to discredit concerns that children get too many vaccines at once as well, directly contradicting Trump’s allegations on that topic too. "It is concerning,” Offit lamented. “You have as a president-elect a science denialist."

The fact that Trump’s team has not confirmed Kennedy’s involvement in his “autism” committee does not eliminate the fact that Trump met with him regarding this in the first place. Even before meeting in person, Kennedy mentions his phone call with Trump prior to Tuesday’s meeting, saying that Trump “believes in those anecdotal stories” about the dangers of vaccines, and he wanted a commission- that would probably last a year, according to Kennedy- to investigate.

I hope with every fiber of my being that this commission never comes to be. This would be the ultimate insult to the intelligence of Americans everywhere. There is absolutely no merit in the claim that vaccines cause autism. The cost of this commission would be astronomical, with a terrifying monetary cost. This wasted money would largely affect public health departments, whose budgets are already strained. A 2010 study in Pediatrics calculated the public sector expenses of containing a measles outbreak- linked to electively unvaccinated schoolchildren- in which 11 children were infected at $124,517, an average of more than $10,000 per infection. That’s not to say that families won’t be affected as well: during that outbreak, 48 children too young to be vaccinated had to be quarantined at an average cost of $775 per family. Medical costs for one infant who was infected were closer to $15,000.

Still skeptical? Here’s another recent case. Pertussis infections, more commonly known as whooping cough has spiked several times in dramatic fashion over the past decade. In 2012, there were 48,277 reported cases in the US—the most since 1955. One former anti-vaxxer mom has come forward to change her position after all seven of her children caught the disease. Her regrets about refusing to vaccinate her children against this completely preventable disease cost her family dearly. Thankfully, none of her family passed away during the difficult treatment time, but more than 87 percent of all of the country’s pertussis deaths from 2000 to 2014 were in infants younger than three months, which meant they were too young to have gotten their first pertussis shot. By choosing to deny these vaccinations, parents are putting infants at a terrible risk.

I can only imagine the losses that will be felt by families who lose children to vaccine-preventable diseases. This type of commission lends legitimacy to something that it shouldn’t, and unfortunately will create more anti-vaxxers. This will allow more infections and diseases to run rampant among children and the general population, and will therefore increase exposure and end up killing those still too young to be vaccinated.

C’mon Trump, stop this ludicrousness. You got us- it’s been a real hoot. Please, please, please, admit that you actually believe in scientific facts, and understand now that there is no need for a vaccine safety commission linked to autism. I can’t believe I’m going to have to say it, but won’t anyone think of the children? For someone who claims to be making America great again, don’t kill thousands of us in the process by allowing this conspiracy to continue.