In Brief
  • There is no need for a White House vaccine safety commission as the 1998 study linking vaccines and autism has been fully debunked and its author discredited.
  • A government-backed anti-vaccine effort could further damage public confidence on the safety of vaccines and potentially lead to outbreaks of all-but-eradicated diseases.

A Prickly Subject

When a 1998 study citing a link between vaccines and autism made headlines, the news quickly spread. Soon, a sense of fear over vaccinations — beyond the fear of needles — replaced what had previously been a non-issue for most. The controversial study was later retracted by the journal that published it, and its authors were heavily censured, with the primary researcher, Andrew Wakefield, barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. Still, the belief persists that vaccines cause autism. They don’t.

Despite being debunked by other studies, including nine funded by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), this mistaken belief that vaccinations lead to autism is making its way into public policy. If reports prove to be true, the Trump administration might set up a White House vaccine safety commission. While anything designed to ensure safety may sound on the surface like a good thing, this commission could have the opposite effect as many believe the purpose of the panel would be to question vaccine safety and attack the immunization standards set by the CDC.

The man who claims he would be chairing this committee, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., reportedly met with President-elect Donald Trump last week to explore the idea. While this vaccine committee hasn’t been confirmed yet, the possibility that one is in the making is unsettling for public health experts and autism advocates.

Trump himself has tweeted in the past about how he believes vaccines lead to autism (though he is often inconsistent in his opinions on the subject). A potential anti-vaccine effort with presidential backing could further damage public confidence on the safety of vaccines —not to mention lead to possible epidemics of all-but-eradicated diseases.