After Meeting With Donald Trump, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Says He Will Chair Commission on Vaccine Safety

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Update: Hours after meeting with Robert F. Kennedy, a spokesperson for Donald Trump’s transition team told the New York Times that Trump met with Kennedy to discuss a “range of issues,” and is exploring the idea of forming a committee on autism, noting, “the President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a committee on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals.” 

On Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. – an outspoken vaccine skeptic who believes the widely debunked theory that vaccines cause autism – after which, Kennedy said Trump asked him to chair a commission on vaccine safety. According to Trump’s transition team, the two met to discuss vaccines, an issue Trump has weighed in on repeatedly over the past several years.

During the Republican Presidential Debate in 2015, Trump incorrectly linked vaccines to autism, noting that he is in favor of vaccines but wants to change how they are delivered. “Autism has become an epidemic. It has gotten totally out of control,” he said. “Just the other day, a 2-year-old child went to have the vaccine, and got a fever; now is autistic. I’m in favor of vaccines, do them over a longer period of time, same amount. And I think you’re going to see a big impact on autism.”

The idea that vaccines cause autism has been disproven a number of times over the past decade. In 1998, the Lancet published a study which claimed autism was linked to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The Lancet retracted the study in 2010 after scientists were unable to replicate its findings, and the study’s author, Andrew Wakefield, had his medical license rescinded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also asserts, “there is no link between vaccines and autism.”

But Trump’s election has emboldened anti-vaxxers like Wakefield, who feel the new president could be an ally to their cause. “For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry,” Wakefield told Stat News in November. “I found him to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing.”

In his book “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak,” Kennedy argued that thimerosal – a mercury-based preservative added to vaccines, which has been reduced or removed from most vaccines used today – causes autism. Again, this is not scientifically proven. By creating a commission on vaccine safety and appointing Kennedy to lead it, many fear Trump could further spark public mistrust in vaccines.

According to Buzzfeed News Kennedy responded to his appointment by noting: “President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it. Everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have—he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I— but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”

Update: Headline has been changed to reflect statement from Trump’s transition team. 


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