Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has talked up the already-debunked links between vaccines and autism for more than a decade. Now, to the dismay of the medical community, President-elect Donald Trump has asked Kennedy to chair a vaccine safety panel, the political scion told reporters.
The commission will focus on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity,” Kennedy said, according to Reuters. The announcement came after Kennedy and Trump met in New York on Tuesday, with Kennedy saying the incoming president “has some doubts about the current vaccine policy.”
The Trump team disputes reports that plans for the commission are final. It released a statement saying Trump “enjoyed his discussion” with Kennedy and is “exploring the possibility of forming a committee on Autism, which affects many families; however no decisions have been made at this time,” according to The Hill.
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Speaking with Science, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, said Trump called for the meeting and that the team will consist of a dozen people—”a mix between science people and prominent Americans.” The president-elect conveyed an “urgency” about the project, Kennedy said.
News of the commission sparked an immediate backlash among the medical community.
After hearing the reports, the American Medical Association released a statement that it’s “deeply concerned” that the commission would cause “unnecessary confusion and adversely impact parental decision-making and immunization practices.”
AMA “fully supports the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect the health of the public,” according to its statement.
Back in 2005, Kennedy, in a Salon and Rolling Stone article, alleged that the U.S. government was covering up a link between autism and the preservative thimerosal, formerly used in vaccines.
Trump, who has no scientific or medical credentials, has stated for years that the current vaccine schedule subjects children to too much at once.
During a Republican primary debate in 2015, Trump said that “autism has become an epidemic,” and later said he’s “totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.”
Over the summer, Trump reportedly met with discredited vaccine skeptic Andrew Wakefield, the prominent senior author of a now-retracted 1998 Lancet study that drew links between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield, now an antivaccine activist, was banned from practicing medicine in the U.K., and BMJ editors said the study was based on falsified data.