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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Trump Appears to Abandon Vaccine Sceptic Group Denounced by Scientists

From The Guardian U.S. Edition

By David Smith
February 21, 2018

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. claimed to be leading a review of links to autism – a widely debunked claim – but now says he hasn’t heard from the White House in months.

Scientists had warned that the commission could give credence to spurious
theories linking vaccinations with autism. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

Donald Trump appears to have abandoned plans to investigate the spurious link between childhood immunisations and autism, a move welcomed by experts but condemned by Robert F Kennedy Jr, a vaccine sceptic.

The son of former U.S. attorney general Bobby Kennedy met Trump in New York during the presidential transition in January last year and announced that he had been asked to chair a commission to review vaccine safety.

Scientists warned that it would give credence to debunked theories, while a Trump spokeswoman denied any decision had been made.


Then, a year ago this week, Kennedy told reporters he had met “many times” with members of Trump’s transition team, “trading documents about what the commission would look like”. But little has been heard of the plan since then.

“I would say there’s zero progress,” Kennedy told the Guardian last week. “We were told President Trump wanted to meet directly with us. Not only did nothing happen, they’ve cut off all communication with people who care about this issue. The administration has decided to go in another direction.”

Kennedy, 64, has had no contact with the White House for at least six months and made no secret of his dismay. “I’ve seen a tremendous deflation among a community of parents and children’s health advocates across the country who believed the promises that President Trump made to the campaign, who put tremendous faith in him and now are feeling enormous betrayal and disappointment.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in the lobby of the Trump Tower on 10 January 2017.
Photograph: Anthony Behar/Sipa/EPA

Childhood vaccines have been linked to autism by activists despite multiple scientific studies around the world proving that incorrect. Trump was willing to fan the flames. In 2012 he tweeted: “Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism.” During a 2015 Republican primary debate, he claimed that a child of some of his employees of his had become autistic after getting vaccinated.

Kennedy describes himself as “pro-vaccine” but has campaigned against the use of thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines made from mercury, and launched a group called the World Mercury Project, backed by anti-vaxxers. He argues that parents should choose whether their children are vaccinated.

In 2005, Kennedy wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine and Salon claiming that the government was conspiring to cover up the connections between autism and thimerosal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence of harm caused by thimerosal, which has not been used in vaccines for children since 2001 but is still used in some flu vaccines. Rolling Stone and Salon later retracted the article.

Kennedy blamed the president’s shift on high-level “corruption” tying the administration to the pharmaceutical industry, which he claims has historically blocked research into vaccine safety to protect its own interests.

“Much of what happens in this administration is obscure so there hasn’t been transparency,” he said.

The environmental lawyer and activist, who is the nephew of the former president John F Kennedy, drew a comparison with the administration’s willingness to favour big business over clean air and water regulations. “A lot of what we’ve seen is analogous to what we’ve seen on the environmental landscape where the wolves have been put in charge of the henhouse, where industry people have been brought in to essentially dismantle public protections.”

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he insisted that science is on his side. “The issue here is the exact same issue as climate change, which is the mainstream science indicates that there’s a serious problem with mercury and other metals in vaccinations, and it’s virtually unanimous in that regard, and then you have industry science which is challenging it, which is big science. I think in both cases President Trump is on the side of the industry and against science.”

Kennedy vowed to fight on, however. “I think we’re going to continue to operate, continue in the courts and continue to talk in public. The evidence now is very clear to anyone who reads science.”

Trump’s own past comments, not least on climate change, suggest that scientific truth may not have been behind his decision to drop the vaccines safety commission. Even so, the move was welcomed by experts.

Experts welcomed the committee’s apparent failure to launch amid concern it would raise erroneous fears about vaccines.

William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine in the department of health policy at the Vanderbilt University school of medicine in Nashville, said: “No news is good news. We hadn’t heard anything. This provides some confirmation that nothing is imminent.”

Vaccines undergo strict safety measures both before and after they are licensed, Schaffner added. “The standards for vaccine safety are very substantially higher than they are for drugs and they are kept under review by a committee of experts that advises the CDC and is separate from industry.”

Peter Jay Hotez, the dean for the national school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said: “I’m very happy there’s no commission. It would once again erroneously raise suspicions about a link between vaccines and autism when such a link has been shown not to exist.”

If the commission had gone ahead, he would have volunteered to be part of it “just to have a scientist on there and stop false ideas moving forward”.

Hotez, who is writing a book about his daughter entitled Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism, said the claim of a link not only lacks evidence but is simply not plausible. “We know autism begins in pregnancy, long before kids see vaccines.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said vaccines are “the most significant medical innovation of our time”, adding that claims that vaccines are linked to autism or are unsafe have been disproven “by a robust body of medical literature”.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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