On Tuesday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—a proponent of the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism—said President-elect Donald Trump asked him to chair a "commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity."
Kennedy said the panel Trump asked him to lead would be made up of about a dozen individuals, including a "mix between science people and other prominent Americans," and that its work would last for about one year.
However, hours later, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks said that the while the president-elect was "exploring the possibility of forming a committee on autism, which affects so many families ... no decisions have been made at this time."
The science: Vaccines and the vaccine schedule don't cause autism
The New York Times reports that "the idea of a link between vaccines and autism has been widely and repeatedly discredited by scientific studies over many years."
The idea that vaccines are linked with autism largely stems from a 1998 study in The Lancet that was retracted in 2010. The study's author later had his medical license revoked based on alleged ethical violations and his failure to disclose conflicts of interest.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in a statement on Tuesday said, "Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature."
"Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease," the group continued. "Vaccines keep communities healthy, and protect some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the elderly, and children who are too young to be vaccinated or have compromised immune systems."
AAP: When parents refuse to vaccinate their kids, it's sometimes OK to dismiss them as patients
Background on Trump, Kennedy, and vaccines
Trump has previously supported the theory that vaccines are linked with autism. In a 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump said he knew of "many instances" in which infants received vaccines and then developed autism. He also said he favored "smaller doses over a longer period of time." And in a 2014 tweet, Trump said "I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied."
Kennedy, an attorney and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, after a meeting with Trump on Tuesday said the president-elect reiterated he "believes in those anecdotal stories" linking autism and vaccines and "has some doubts about the current vaccine policies."
Kennedy "has repeatedly questioned the safety of vaccines and advanced arguments that there is a link between the immunizations and autism," Sheila Kaplan and Dylan Scott write for STAT News. In a 2014 book touting the discredited theory that a mercury-based preservative found in vaccines causes autism, Kennedy wrote, "With the research, regulatory and policy-making agencies captured, the courts closed to the public, the lawyers disarmed, the politicians on retainer and the media subverted, there is no one left to stand between a greedy industry and vulnerable children, except parents."
Public health groups express concern
Several public health groups and clinicians expressed alarm about a possible commission on vaccines and about the president-elect's statements on vaccines.
AMA: No more non-medical vaccination exemptions
Carol Baker, who chairs CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said that "a great public health achievement of the 20th century, namely prevention of deadly infectious diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough, hepatitis B, meningitis, and others, is likely to be threatened" if Kennedy is appointed to chair such a commission.
Patrice Harris, chair of the American Medical Association's (AMA) board of directors, said in a statement that AMA is "deeply concerned that creating a new commission on vaccine safety would cause unnecessary confusion and adversely impact parental decision-making and immunization practice" (Shear et al., New York Times, 1/10; Peck, MedPage Today, 1/10; Phillip et al., Washington Post, 1/10; Allen, "Forty Five," Politico, 1/10; Sarlin, NBC News, 1/10; Kaplan/Scott, STAT News, 1/10; Kaplan, "Speaking of Science," Washington Post, 1/10; Trump tweet, 9/3/14; Blake, "The Fix," Washington Post, 1/10).
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