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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump, RFK, DeNiro, Autism, and Vaccines

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the discredited idea that vaccines cause autism.  Trump has supported that notion. 

At Buzzfeed, Azeen Ghorayshi reports on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.:
On Wednesday, Kennedy said that he’s been contacted by the Trump administration three times since their original meeting in January. “They tell me that they’re still going forward with a commission,” Kennedy said, adding that he “can’t tell” whether it will happen. BuzzFeed News has asked the administration for comment on these claims.
But in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Wednesday that included the actor Robert De Niro, Kennedy argued that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in cahoots with journalists, have been denying the dangers of vaccines, fueled largely by money pumped in by a powerful pharmaceutical industry. He called the public health agency a “cesspool of corruption” and “a vaccine company,” that hid science from the public. To that end, Kennedy announced the “World Mercury Project Challenge,” offering $100,000 to anyone who could find a scientific study that demonstrated the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines in children and pregnant women.
As the article points out, a real expert has a different view:
“I’m a vaccine scientist. I’m also the father of an adult daughter with autism,” Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, told BuzzFeed News.
“Not only is there an abundance of evidence showing that vaccines are safe, there’s not even any plausibility of an association [with autism].”
“Press conferences like this become a distraction from the really important and hard work that needs to be done,” Hotez said.
Meredith Wadman reports at Science:
Kennedy was summoned on 10 January to meet with the then–president elect and emerged from Trump Tower in New York City to tell the press that Trump had asked him to head a “vaccine safety and scientific integrity" commission. Within hours a Trump spokesperson qualified Kennedy’s statements, saying the president “is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism … however no decisions have been made.” The spokesperson added that Trump was discussing “all aspects of autism with many groups and individuals.”

Julia Belluz reports at Vox: 
Kennedy has a long history of stoking vaccine doubts, focusing in particular on the claim that the mercury in shots makes kids sick. ...
Kennedy’s article at Salon was retracted, after the online magazine had to run a series of corrections that contradicted many of the piece’s claims.

What’s more, thimerosal, an ethyl mercury-containing antimicrobial, has been removed from most vaccines for children since 2001, with the exception of an inactivated flu vaccine. The public health community did this as a precautionary measure — part of a strategy to reduce mercury exposures from any source. And since then, researchers have found that autism rates among children haven’t gone down. So it’s not clear why Kennedy continues on this mercury and vaccines tirade. What’s more, thimerosal was never used in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine that some vaccine skeptics claim causes autism.
Julia Brucculieri reports at The Huffington Post:
De Niro seemed to be fully on board with his fellow panelist.

I’m glad I’m here. I thought what Bobby said was great. It was eloquent. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I agree with him 100 percent. Thank you,” he said.

The actor has been sympathetic to the anti-vaccine movement in the past. Last year, he gave the go-ahead to screen the controversial documentary “Vaxxed” at the Tribeca Film Festival (which he co-founded). The film was directed by discredited physician Andrew Wakefield, and was eventually pulled from the festival lineup after immense backlash from the scientific community. Wakefield published his first study linking vaccines to autism in 1998, but was unable to prove his theory. The study was retracted in 2010 and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in the U.K. later that year.