President-elect Donald Trump met with notable anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Tuesday, further stoking unfounded fears about vaccine safety and efficacy by asking the Democrat to chair a commission on the issue.
Kennedy, the son of late presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, told reporters after his meeting with Trump that the President-elect asked him to head a look into “vaccination safety and scientific integrity.”
Kennedy said he agreed to chair the commission.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said. “His 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.”
Kennedy added that both he and Trump are “very pro-vaccine” but that they want to make sure vaccines are “as safe as they possibly can be.”
Neither Trump nor Kennedy are expressly pro-vaccine, though.
Trump stoked fears about vaccines during the 2016 campaign, telling an audience at a CNN primary debate in 2015 that he is in favor of “smaller doses over a longer period of time” because of autism as a possible side effect.
“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,” he said.
Trump then told a story about how he met a two-year-old who “went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”
Trump did not identify the child he was talking about.
He has also tweeted anti-vaccine rhetoric.
“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases,” Trump tweeted in 2014.
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
Multiple Trump spokespeople failed to immediately respond to CNN requests for comment.
In 2014, Kennedy wrote a book about mercury in vaccines and has lobbied Congress to give parents exemptions from state requirements that mandate they vaccinate their children.
The lifelong Democrat downplays his anti-vaccine views, though, by saying that he is actually in favor of safe vaccines and noting that all of his children have been vaccinated.
Myths and falsehoods about vaccines — particularly about the link between a vaccine preservative and autism — abound. During the Republican primary, a number of candidates stoked those fears. In fact, research shows that vaccines do not cause autism and that they prevent upwards of 6 million deaths worldwide each year.
According to the same research, one in a million children have serious adverse reactions of vaccines.
“The scientific research has been done and the results are clear — vaccines do not cause autism,” Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, said after Trump’s meeting. “Some people may choose not to believe the facts, but perpetuating a myth from the very highest levels poses a dangerous threat to public health.”
Parents declining to vaccinate their children has caught on in some areas, however, and in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 188 people from 24 states were reported to have the measles, although not all of those individuals were unvaccinated. In 2016, 70 cases of measles were reported although the numbers for the year have not been finalized yet.
“The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated,” the CDC reported, a fact they attributed to the rise on anti-vaccination activists.
Celebrities — like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Alicia Silverstone — have stoked the trend.
“We’re not anti-vaccine. We’re pro-safe vaccine schedule,” McCarthy told PBS last year as California politicians were debating whether to pass and sign a strict vaccination law.
California Gov. Jerry Brown ended up signing the law, getting rid of personal and religious exemptions for vaccines.