Trump’s views of child­hood vac­cines defy science

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

Don­ald Trump’s views on vac­cines have long been out of sync with science. Child­hood vac­cines cause autism, he as­serted at a de­bate in 2015, echo­ing state­ments he had made in 2014 and 2012. But now the pres­i­den­t­elect is poised to do more than just pass along mis­in­for­ma­tion: He has asked a die-hard “anti-vaxxer” to lead a com­mis­sion on “vac­ci­na­tion and sci­en­tific in­tegrity.”

The ap­pointee is Robert Kennedy Jr., who has been skep­ti­cal about vac­cines for years, be­liev­ing — like Trump, on zero ev­i­dence — that the preser­va­tive some con­tain is linked to autism.

Sadly, this is not just a mat­ter of two men shar­ing a thor­oughly de­bunked the­ory. In the U.S., and in­creas­ingly the rest of the world, no­tions about the dan­ger of vac­cines are spread­ing, caus­ing some par­ents to skip them al­to­gether and in­creas­ing the risk that chil­dren will suf­fer and die from measles and other pre­ventable ill­nesses. In Texas, which has be­come the cen­ter of the anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment, tens of thou­sands of chil­dren are go­ing with­out vac­cines, a 20-fold in­crease since 2003.

The dan­ger is that Trump and Kennedy will stoke more push­back against state re­quire­ments that chil­dren be vac­ci­nated against ma­jor com­mu­ni­ca­ble ill­nesses be­fore en­rolling in school. Most states al­low re­li­gious ex­emp­tions from such rules, but only 18 still al­low ex­emp­tions based on per­sonal be­liefs. Texas is the largest of these, and the leg­is­la­ture is de­bat­ing var­i­ous ways to strengthen its law. All states should, at least, re­quire schools to pub­lish the per­cent­age of their stu­dents who have been vac­ci­nated, so that par­ents can be as­sured that the schools are safe.

Vac­cines are safe, as any num­ber of stud­ies and re­ports have shown. The only study that ever claimed to de­tect any link be­tween vac­cines and autism fa­mously turned out to be a fraud, and its au­thor was barred from prac­tic­ing medicine.

Doc­tors have also demon­strated that the rec­om­mended in­oc­u­la­tion sched­ule for chil­dren is not too early or too rushed, as Trump has al­leged. On the con­trary, it’s im­por­tant to pro­tect the very young from whoop­ing cough, diph­the­ria and other ill­nesses, and it is es­sen­tial that they get vac­cines when they will be most ef­fec­tive.

Kennedy said Tues­day that he and the pres­i­dent-elect sim­ply think “we ought to be read­ing the science and we ought to be de­bat­ing the science.” If the two men were that rea­son­able, they wouldn’t be mak­ing vac­cines an is­sue at all.

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