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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Autism, Vaccines, and Trump: The Hits Keep Coming

Many posts have discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  (He also has a bad record on disability issues more generally.) The story that Trump might appoint anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a presidential commission -- whether on vaccines or autism -- has provoked widespread reactions.

Given Trump’s interest in Russia, he might be interested to know that the first claims of an association among vaccines, mercury, and child neurological health problems were raised in the early 1980s by Soviet virologist Galena Petrovna Chervonskaya and trumpeted in the Communist Party’s Komsomolskaya Pravda. Vaccination rates fell so low following the report that Soviet soldiers returning from war in Afghanistan, where diphtheria was still common, unwittingly spawned an epidemic that swept the Soviet Union, causing the worst outbreak since World War II. Some 200,000 unvaccinated children contracted diphtheria, which killed roughly 2 to 3 percent of those infected, varying by region.
Steven Salzberg writes at Forbes:
So back to this "vaccine commission" that RFK Jr. wants to lead. Besides the blindingly obvious fact that RFK Jr. is completely, utterly incompetent to lead such a commission, he and Trump also seem unaware that the U.S. already has a vaccine commission. It's called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and it's filled with medical experts who have spent their lives studying vaccines and vaccine safety. It also includes a consumer representative, and it is completely open, despite the conspiracy-mongering protestations of RFK Jr. If you want to see who's on it, just look here. The ACIP meets three times a year, its meeting schedule is also posted on the website, and the meetings are open to the public.
Putting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in charge of a commission on vaccines is akin to putting Josef Stalin in charge of prison reform. By insisting that vaccines cause autism, both Trump and RFK Jr. have already ignored a vast body of science that shows vaccines to be not only safe, but perhaps the single greatest benefit to public health in the history of medicine. If Trump gives RFK Jr. a platform to spout his anti-vaccine nonsense, the two of them will set back healthcare by decades. Infectious diseases such as measles will return with a vengeance, and children will die. That will be an awful outcome, and no one–not even Trump or RFK Jr.–can possibly want that. Let's hope that someone in Trump's inner circle stops him before this goes any further.
An editorial in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The pattern is clear. President-elect Donald Trump wants disrupters in control of agencies and commissions that he doesn’t value. That’s the new president’s prerogative, but he risks inflicting serious harm with wholesale changes to agencies whose missions are based on solid, well-identified public needs.
Imagine the death and suffering that would rain down across America without vaccines to fight polio, smallpox or the measles. Parents require assurance that their children will not be exposed to dangerous diseases at school because others have been misled by myths perpetuated by the incoming administration about unfounded dangers of vaccines.

Trump fanned fears about vaccines during his campaign and perpetuated a widely discredited myth that they cause autism. Kennedy has been writing and speaking for more than a decade about supposed links between vaccines and autism. He has also toured the nation testifying against state vaccine mandates.
The theory has been widely discredited by reputable scientific studies. Health professionals have been alarmed by the growth of the anti-vaccination movement, saying public health will suffer if the effort is not halted.
An editorial in The Boston Globe:
Perhaps Trump’s stance on vaccines shouldn’t come as a surprise. During the 2016 campaign, he called global warming a hoax. But the stakes are exponentially higher as he assumes the presidency. In addition to the real risk of harming public health, he’s making it more likely that medical science will follow climate science into the maw of our divided politics, potentially driving Republicans to reject vaccines out of partisan loyalties. It’s worth remembering that another Republican in the White House, Abraham Lincoln, signed a law in 1863 creating the National Academy of Sciences because he recognized the economic and social value of scientific progress, even during the depths of the Civil War. By rejecting decades of settled science, and lending credence to fraudulent theories, Trump does a disservice to the party of Lincoln, and to a nation that expects better.