"Vaccinations Lead to Autism"
According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., President-elect Donald Trump has chosen him to chair his presidential commission on vaccine safety, something that would seem paradoxical given Kennedy's views on vaccinations. According to Trump transition team spokesperson Hope Hicks, however, the president-elect was "exploring the possibility" of a commission, but no decision has been made.
Were this commission on vaccine safety to come to fruition, its purpose would be "to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects," Kennedy told reporters after meeting with Trump. But there is some doubt in the appropriateness of him for this position given his personal beliefs.
Kennedy and Trump are both skeptical of vaccines because of the debunked theory that they cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Earlier this fall, Trump met with Andrew Wakefield, who published a paper proposing a correlation between ASD and vaccinations. Although Wakefield lost his medical license due to misconduct in relation to the paper, Trump reportedly values his knowledge. “I found [Trump] to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing,” Wakefield told STAT after the meeting.
With little evidence to prove his claim, Kennedy has stated his belief that there is a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal that is found in vaccines and is responsible for causing autism. He has even promoted an anti-vaccine documentary that criticized public health officials who denied that the preservative was linked to autism. "They can put anything they want in that vaccine, and they have no accountability for it," Kennedy told an audience in Sacramento while promoting the documentary.
However, the CDC and medical professionals across the board have found that there are no links between the two and that the ingredients do not cause ASD.
The Unbelievable Impact of Vaccines
Despite these claims that vaccines are linked to autism, it's nearly impossible to deny just how effective they are in saving lives. The CDC provided a detailed report that estimates that immunizations will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the entire lifetimes of children born between 1994 and 2013. They will also save approximately $295 billion in direct costs.
For almost a decade, vaccinations have been reducing the number of deaths caused by preventable diseases. In 1968, 152,209 people contracted mumps while only 229 contracted it in 2013 due to immunizations. More Americans die each year from falling out of bed. Despite this drastic decrease in deaths, there were 4,258 cases of the mumps in the United States in 2016.
That is four times the number of cases in 2015 and the most cases we've seen in a single year since 2006. Widely blamed for this increase is the anti-vaccine movement, whose main claim is that vaccines cause autism. The first to make this claim? Andrew Wakefield.
We can only hope that if this vaccine safety commission does come to fruition and Kennedy does lead it, he takes seriously this century's progress in disease prevention and control. We must take his statement regarding scientific integrity at face value and hope that his own integrity compels him to act in the best interest of all.