Trump’s views of childhood vaccines defy science
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.