In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns. In this campaign, a number of posts discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. He also has a bad record on science and disability issues more generally.
His executive order from last Friday banning already-vetted refugees from 7 mainly Muslim countries was ill-thought-out, drafted without consultation with the appropriate agencies, has resulted in chaos at airports, and is being contested in the courts.
Given these antics, it is not surprising that in the scientific community and beyond there is mounting concern about the Trump administration’s stance on questions pertaining to health, energy, and the environment.
So far, the scientific issue that has gotten the most attention from Trump is that of the safety of vaccines. During the Republican primary campaign, he expressed concerns that vaccines were linked to what he called the autism “epidemic.” A year earlier he had accused the medical community of lying about vaccine safety.Daisy Yuhas writes at Spectrum:
Four months ago, if you had asked Jonathan Sebat about his political stance, he would have described it as “passive.” Sebat, who directs the Beyster Institute for Psychiatric Genomics at the University of California, San Diego, saw himself as much less politically engaged than many of his colleagues. He briefly digested the news before heading to work, where his primary focus is to understand the molecular basis of autism.
But since November, Sebat has found politics inescapable, and news reports pepper his waking hours. “I receive alerts throughout the day of major political upheaval,” he says. “I find myself dedicating hours a day trying to figure out what’s going on and corresponding with other scientists.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has made remarks that defy established science, including linking autism to vaccines. His ban on travel from seven Muslim nations, put in place by an executive order signed 27 January, may stem the flow of scientific talent into the United States.
These actions have caused many scientists to dub the new administration as ‘anti-science.’
Sebat says he fears that the administration’s hostility toward facts in autism, climate change and other fields will hinder research. “Politics seems to be eclipsing science,” he says.
Sebat is not alone. More than 800,000 people have reportedly joined a private Facebook group planning a March for Science in Washington, D.C. As momentum grows on social media, the organizers are helping volunteers set up multiple satellite marches across the country. The date is undecided. “A well-organized, peaceful protest is an excellent way to send a clear message,” says Sebat, who hopes to attend a satellite march in San Diego.
Rebecca Robbins reports at STAT that vaccine supporters are becoming more active.
“We’re trying to say there are people here [and] they do care” about promoting evidence-based vaccine policy, said Amy Pisani, executive director of Every Child By Two, a group which advocates for timely childhood vaccinations. “We just haven’t asked them to do anything in the past.”
The perceived threats are many, and they come from the highest level: President Trump has a long history of expressing doubts about the safety of vaccines — and promoting the debunked notion that they cause autism — despite broad scientific consensus that they’re safe.
During his campaign, Trump met with a group of anti-vaccine advocates including the discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who seeded the anti-vaccine movement with fraudulent science. Wakefield popped up again last month at one of Trump’s inaugural balls.
Most alarming to supporters of vaccines, earlier this month the outspoken vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told reporters he’d be joining the Trump administration to chair a new commission on vaccine safety. A spokeswoman for Trump later said no decision had been made.
Voices for Vaccines, an advocacy group for parents, has seen spikes in membership each time stories about Trump’s ties to the anti-vaccine movement hit the news, according to executive director Karen Ernst.Pew reports (emphasis added):
A new Pew Research Center survey conducted prior to the election finds the “vaccine hesitant” views expressed by Trump and other public figures to be at odds with most Americans’ views. An overwhelming majority of Americans (82%) support requiring all healthy schoolchildren to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella. Some 73% of Americans see high preventive health benefits from use of the MMR vaccine, and 66% believe there is a low risk of side effects from the vaccine. Overall, 88% believe that the benefits of these inoculations outweigh the risks.
But there are several groups with comparatively more concern about the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Foremost among them are parents of children ages 0 to 4 who have recently faced or will soon face a decision about whether to follow the recommended immunization schedule for measles, mumps and rubella starting when their children are between 12 and 15 months old. Six-in-ten (60%) parents with children ages 0 to 4 see the preventive health benefits of the MMR vaccine as high, compared with 75% of parents with school-age children (ages 5-17) and 76% of people with no children under age 18. About half (52%) of parents with children ages 0 to 4 say the risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine is low, 43% of this group says the risk is medium or high. By comparison, 70% of those with no minor age children say the risk of side effects is low, and 29% say the risk is medium or worse.