In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the discredited idea that vaccines cause autism. Trump has supported that notion.
President Trump is “not going to back down” from his pledge to study the effects of vaccinations, Kennedy told reporters at his vaccine safety press conference on Wednesday. (A full livestream of Kennedy’s press conference was hosted by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars.)
Kennedy told Politico that he has met “many times” with members of Trump’s transition team since December. Shortly after meeting with Trump in January, the well-known anti-vaxxer claimed that he had been invited to head a “vaccine safety and scientific integrity” commission.
On Wednesday Kennedy told reporters that he has been “trading documents about what the commission would look like” with administration staff and had spoken with presidential aides three times since his January meeting with Trump. Kennedy said in January when he met with Trump about the issue at Trump Tower, White House aides Steven Bannon, Stephen Miller and Vice President Mike Pence had all participated.
The explanation for the bogus vaccine-autism link is a constantly shifting target. As noted, both the MMR vaccine and thimerosal have been blamed, and the anti-vaccine movement happily gloms onto both explanations despite the fact that they are completely unrelated. That the various theories never really cohere doesn’t seem to give the movement pause. Blurring dark but vague threats, anti-vaccine activists blend them into a miasma through which no given study can hope to penetrate. Uncertainty is good for stoking fear.
When studies show that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism, and when the original study suggesting a link is exposed as a fraud? It must be thimerosal! Other studies show no association between thimerosal and autism, and thimerosal isn’t even used anymore? The combination of all the vaccines at once is the problem! Produce evidence to support the safety of the current vaccination schedule, and the boogeyman simply adopts another form.
Because much of the evidence in support of vaccines comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, detractors seize on corruption as an explanation for studies with findings contrary to their beliefs. The anti-vaccine movement affords the CDC roughly as much respect as you’d typically give cardsharps and second-rate grifters, and anything the CDC produces is dismissed out of hand. But even if the CDC were a hotbed of malign pharmaceutical industry influence, that doesn’t explain why large studies demonstrating the safety of vaccines come from places like Denmark or the United Kingdom, where the CDC doesn’t have a lot of pull.