President-elect Trump has appointed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — a leading voice of the anti-vax movement — to head the agency in charge of vaccine safety.
USA Today reported on Tuesday that Kennedy will chair a presidential commission intended “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects,” according to a statement Kennedy made to the press.
“[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.”
Trump himself has openly endorsed unsubstantiated conspiracy theories linking vaccines to autism on his verified Twitter account:
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
Despite reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) debunking claims that vaccines are linked to autism, Kennedy has continued to propagate the myth that vaccinating children against diseases like measles, smallpox, and polio can cause autism. One prominent view among anti-vaccination advocates, including Kennedy, is that thimerosal — a mercury-based ingredient in vaccines — can cause irreparable harm to children. However, the CDC linked to multiple scientific studies that have unilaterally concluded that the ingredient has zero potential to cause autism:
One vaccine ingredient that has been studied specifically is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of multidose vials of vaccines. Research shows that thimerosal does not cause ASD. 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[PDF – 357 KB] 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.
In addition to Kennedy, Trump has also met with anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield. According to ARS Technica, Wakefield was the author of a now-retracted paper linking vaccines to autism, and even had his medical license revoked for publishing the paper.
Kennedy confusingly told reporters that the President-elect was “very pro-vaccine, as am I,” but stated his role on the commission was to make sure vaccines are “as safe as they possibly can be.”
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.