Robert F. Kennedy met with Donald Trump Tuesday and said the president-elect has asked him to chair a presidential commission on vaccine safety.
Kennedy, descendant of one of America’s most famous political families, is also famous for something else: He’s a leading proponent of the completely discredited conspiracy theory that says thimerosal, a component in vaccinations, can cause autism in children. The notion has been forcefully debunked by a wide body of scientific research and described as dangerous by scientists and doctors across the board.
But Kennedy, an environmental attorney and radio host, has a listening ear in the president-elect, who has publicly expressed skepticism over the safety of vaccinations in the past. “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM,” Trump wrote on Twitter in March 2014. “Many such cases!”
After meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York, Kennedy told reporters in the lobby that the purpose of the commission will be to ensure “scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.”
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies,” Kennedy said, adding that “[Trump’s] very pro-vaccine, as am I,” but that both wanted to assure everyone that “they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”
There’s a large body of scientific research that has found no relationship between vaccines and autism or any other neurological disorders. There is, however, plenty of research showing how infant and child mortality has decreased because of vaccinations.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 found that more than 732,000 children’s lives had been saved in the last 20 years in the U.S. thanks to routine vaccinations, and 332 million more were prevented from getting sick. The World Health Organization reported in 2015 that measles vaccinations alone had saved an estimated 17.1 million lives worldwide since 2000.
“Why would a parent put their child’s life at risk by voluntarily forgoing a life-saving preventive measure?” asked Robert Pearl, CEO of the Permanente Medical group, a physician-led medical group, in an article for Forbes. “The answer is a combination of false science, outdated anecdotes, and fearmongering.”
False science can be dangerous; studies published by the American Medical Association last year identified a relationship between declining rates of vaccinations among children with an uptick in measles and whooping cough cases in the United States. Left untreated, measles can cause permanent hearing loss, brain damage, and death. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be fatal among babies.