It seems as if our good friend Trump is getting his claws in every pie he can find, with news reports suggesting that he his considering launching a Federal Commission on Immunizations. The commission is reportedly to be headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr, an anti-vaccine activist. Kennedy told reporters Trump asked him to look into “vaccination safety and scientific integrity.” A spokesperson for the Trump campaign issued a statement saying, “The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time.”
It is easy enough to put two and two together: Kennedy and Trump are not “pro-vaccine,” and are considered by many to espouse views similar to the “anti-vaccine movement.”
In a debate in 2015, Trump stated that “autism has become an epidemic. … It has gotten totally out of control. I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.” This just shows that Trump fundamentally misunderstands vaccines and the science behind them – and adheres to sensationalized, debunked claims over proven fact. Sound familiar?
IN A NUTSHELL: Vaccines do not cause Autism.
Here are the facts: Vaccines do not cause autism. One study, and one study only, was published in 1998 in The Lancet, claiming to have found a correlation between the MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccine and instances of autism. In the almost 20 years that has followed, this study has been disproven over and over again, and the results of the study could not be replicated in other labs. An analysis of ten studies, including over a million children with autism spectrum disorders, has found that vaccines do not cause autism. Other studies refuting this result can be found here, and here.
This in itself is not a big issue, as scientists are often proven wrong after more studies are conducted, but this particular study is different. Its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, was found to have multiple conflicts of interest, violated ethical standards, and manipulated data to his own ends. The paper itself was retracted from the journal in 2004, fully retracted in 2010, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical registration, with the panel stating that “[his] conduct was irresponsible and dishonest”. Wakefield can no longer practice as a doctor, and his reputation has been tarnished globally as a result of this study and the subsequent rulings.
But this is the study anti-vaccine campaigners come back to, time and time again!
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN: What’s in a vaccine? How does it work?
Vaccines contain a weakened version of a germ that causes a particular disease. This allows your body to produce antibodies to fight and easily overcome it, preparing it to recognize it if it ever shows up in your system later on. This is useful, as some diseases can spread very quickly throughout the body. Without the antibodies produced with vaccination, your immune system may not recognize the disease or produce the correct antibodies until it is too late.
Some people claim that herd immunity, which suggests that the risk of infection for a non-immune individual decreases in the presence of multiple immune individuals, is enough to protect them or their child from contracting deadly diseases for which we already have vaccines. This is inherently selfish. There are some people who are unable to be vaccinated, such as infants, pregnant women, or those who have deficiencies in their immune system – and herd immunity is there for them. There is no reason not to be vaccinated, or to not vaccinate your children. There is no reason for the efficacy and safety of vaccines to be questioned, least of all by people who do not have any experience in medical or scientific fields.
DIAGNOSIS: Should we be concerned about this?
Yes. We should. We should be even more concerned about the fact that Kennedy is a lawyer, not a physician, medical professional, or scientist in any way, shape, or form. After his meeting this morning, he stated, “(Trump’s) 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.”
EXPLANATION: What effect will a Federal Commission have?
Trump’s skepticism of “the science” is comparable to those who deny the existence of climate change – science has proven, over and over again, that vaccines are safe, just as it’s proven climate change is real. As the national spokesperson for MoveOn.org, Karine Jean-Pierre, stated, “this nomination will put children at grave risk if Kennedy continues to elevate debunked myths over proven science.” This commission, if it goes ahead, isn’t just an insult to the scientific community, but has wide and varying implications for the entirety of the health care system, which the GOP are desperately trying to dismantle.
Indeed, Trump is known to have “slow-vaxxed” Barron, his youngest child, which involves providing “smaller doses” of the same vaccine over a prolonged period of time.
Brian Palmer, writing for Slate, notes that “Trump has staked out a centrist position, smack dab between scientific fact and total bullshit. … but mixing one part fact with one part fiction does not get you something that is partially true.”
Vaccines do not cause autism. They do save lives. It is important to note that Trump has (successfully) run a campaign based on repeating information over and over again, until it seems true.
We cannot let this happen when our health and wellbeing, and that of our children’s, is at stake.