Vac­cine skep­tic says Trump asked him to lead panel on in­oc­u­la­tions

Tran­si­tion of­fi­cial says no de­ci­sion reached on an autism com­mis­sion


Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a pro­po­nent of a widely dis­cred­ited the­ory that vac­cines cause autism, said Tues­day that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump asked him to chair a new com­mis­sion on vac­cines.

Hours later, how­ever, a spokes­woman for Trump’s tran­si­tion said that while Trump would like to cre­ate a com­mis­sion on autism, no fi­nal de­ci­sion had been made.

If Trump fol­lows through, the stun­ning move would push up against es­tab­lished science, medicine and the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on the is­sue. It comes af­ter Trump — who has long been crit­i­cal of vac­cines — met at Trump Tower with Kennedy, who has spear­headed ef­forts to roll back child vac­ci­na­tion laws.

“The Pres­i­dent-elect en­joyed his dis­cus­sion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of is­sues and ap­pre­ci­ates his thoughts and ideas,” Trump tran­si­tion spokes­woman Hope Hicks said in a state­ment. “The Pres­i­dent-elect is ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of form­ing a com­mis­sion on autism, which af­fects so many fam­i­lies; 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,” she added.

Speak­ing to re­porters ear­lier Tues­day in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Kennedy said that Trump called him to re­quest the meet­ing and that he ac­cepted the of­fer of a po­si­tion on the com­mis­sion dur­ing the meet­ing.

“Pres­i­dent-elect Trump has some doubts about the cur­rent vac­cine poli­cies, and he has ques­tions about it,” Kennedy said. “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,” he added.

There is a fed­eral ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee on im­mu­niza­tion, made up of med­i­cal and pub­lic health ex­perts who de­velop rec­om­men­da­tions on how vac­cines are used in the United States.

The an­nounce­ment was met with alarm from health pro­fes­sion­als who say that putting a pro­po­nent of a con­spir­acy the­ory in a po­si­tion of author­ity on the is­sue is dan­ger­ous.

“That’s very fright­en­ing; it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­one less qual­i­fied to serve on a com­mis­sion for vac­cine science,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the Na­tional School of Trop­i­cal Medicine at Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine and pres­i­dent of the Sabin Vac­cine In­sti­tute, a non­profit that works to con­trol, treat and elim­i­nate vac­cine-pre­ventable and ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases.

“The science is clear: Mas­sive ev­i­dence show­ing no link be­tween vac­cines and autism, and as both a sci­en­tist who de­vel­ops vac­cines for poverty-re­lated ne­glected dis­eases and the fa­ther of an adult daugh­ter with autism, there’s not even any plau­si­bil­ity for a link,” Hotez con­tin­ued. “Autism is a ge­netic con­di­tion.”

“Our na­tion’s pub­lic health will suf­fer if this nascent neo-an­ti­vaxxer move­ment is not stopped im­me­di­ately,” he added.

Kennedy has been a pro­po­nent of non­med­i­cal ex­emp­tions for par­ents who seek to pre­vent their chil­dren from be­ing vac­ci­nated, which is manda­tory in most states.

He has ar­gued that mer­cury­based ad­di­tives in vac­cines ex­plain the link to autism. And he has al­leged that gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists, jour­nal­ists and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have col­luded to hide the truth from the pub­lic.

“They get the shot. That night they have a fever of 103. They go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said at the pre­miere of an anti-vac­ci­na­tion film screen­ing in Cal­i­for­nia in 2015. “This is a holo­caust, what this is do­ing to our coun­try.”

Kennedy is known to be an oc­ca­sional con­spir­acy the­o­rist and long­time op­po­nent of manda­tory vac­ci­na­tion laws. In 2006, he wrote in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine that the Repub­li­can Party had stolen the 2004 elec­tion from Democratic can­di­date John F. Kerry. At a 2013 speech in Dal­las, he said he doesn’t be­lieve the lone gun­man the­ory of the as­sas­si­na­tion of his un­cle, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy.

Trump no­tably ex­pressed sup­port for the the­ory that vac­ci­na­tions are linked to autism at a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate in 2015.

“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,” Trump said.

The com­ments were widely de­nounced by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als who say that there is no ev­i­dence that vac­cines lead to autism. In fact, the study that pop­u­lar­ized the idea has been re­tracted and dis­cred­ited as fraud­u­lent. Mul­ti­ple high-qual­ity stud­ies have found no link be­tween vac­cines and autism.

Trump’s claim was re­jected on the same de­bate stage by re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben­jamin Car­son, whom Trump has now nom­i­nated to serve as his sec­re­tary of hous­ing and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment.

“The fact of the mat­ter is we have ex­tremely well-doc­u­mented proof that there’s no autism associated with vac­ci­na­tions,” Car­son said.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion has said flatly that there is no link be­tween vac­cines and autism and that vac­cine in­gre­di­ents do not cause autism. Scores of stud­ies from around the world since then have shown con­clu­sively that vac­cines do not cause autism. Ev­ery rel­e­vant sci­en­tific and med­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion has ex­am­ined the ev­i­dence and con­cluded that vac­cines are safe and ef­fec­tive and that the real dan­ger lies in skip­ping or de­lay­ing them.

Still, the the­ory has re­tained its ad­her­ents. The United States has ex­pe­ri­enced re­cent measles out­breaks linked to un­vac­ci­nated

“Our na­tion’s pub­lic health will suf­fer if this nascent neo-an­ti­vaxxer move­ment is not stopped im­me­di­ately.” Peter Hotez, dean of the Na­tional School of Trop­i­cal Medicine at Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine and pres­i­dent of the Sabin Vac­cine In­sti­tute

res­i­dents, in­clud­ing one in 2014 that in­fected 383 peo­ple, most of them in Amish com­mu­ni­ties in Ohio. In 2015, an­other mul­ti­state out­break was linked to Cal­i­for­nia’s Dis­ney­land theme park. In both years, the source of the in­fec­tion was be­lieved to be peo­ple who brought the virus home af­ter vis­it­ing the Philip­pines.

In tweets as early as 2012, Trump ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about vac­cines, and in 2014 he said that “doc­tors lied” about vac­cines. In other tweets, Trump has re­ferred to vac­cines as the cause of “doc­tor-in­flicted autism.”

“Mas­sive com­bined in­oc­u­la­tions to small chil­dren is the cause for big in­crease in autism,” Trump said in an Au­gust 2012 tweet.

Trump’s state­ments at the Repub­li­can de­bate in 2015 were de­nounced as “false” by the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics, which re­leased a strongly worded con­dem­na­tion.

“Claims that vac­cines are linked to autism, or are un­safe when ad­min­is­tered ac­cord­ing to the rec­om­mended sched­ule, have been dis­proved by a ro­bust body of med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture,” said Karen Rem­ley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the AAP. “It is dan­ger­ous to pub­lic health to sug­gest oth­er­wise.”

Autism is now con­sid­ered a spec­trum of brain disor­ders with a mul­ti­tude of causes. Ac­cord­ing to Autism Speaks, peo­ple with the dis­or­der can have trou­ble with so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, ver­bal and non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and repet­i­tive be­hav­iors. One in 68 U.S. chil­dren are con­sid­ered to be on the autism spec­trum — a ten­fold in­crease from 40 years ear­lier, largely due to changes in how autism is de­fined and di­ag­nosed.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. waits for an el­e­va­tor at Trump Tower in Man­hat­tan on his way to meet with Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.


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