The study that claims vaccines cause autism has been long debunked. Andrew Wakefield, the British physician behind it, had his paper retracted by The Lancet, which called it an “elaborate fraud.” No one has been able to replicate it. Wakefield lost his medical license because of it. And yet, it persists, this idea that somehow, the MMR vaccine is unsafe because it causes developmental disabilities.
The medical community agrees that Wakefield is a fraud. They also agree that by and large, vaccines are safe, that they’re necessary for public health, and that you should get your child vaccinated on the schedule set out by the CDC.
It’s too bad our president isn’t onboard. In fact, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a supporter of Wakefield’s theory, confirmed this in comments to the press on February 15. According to Politico, the president “remains committed to investigating a link between vaccines and autism,” and Kennedy said the president wants him to lead it. Daily Beast reports that Kennedy’s “Deadly Immunity” essay claimed that “government health agencies colluded with Big Pharma to hide the risks of thimerosal from the public.” He’s called a vaccine advocate the “equivalent of Nazi concentration camp guards,” and in 2015 called the use of vaccines “a holocaust.”
This is a man who is supposed to be looking into vaccine safety. Scared yet? If not, in August 2016, Trump even met with Wakefield, according to the Chicago Tribune. And you thought this administration couldn’t get any worse.
Chicago Tribune also shares a story of what happened when vaccination rates fall. In the 1980s, a Russian scientist questioned the safety of mercury and vaccinations. Vaccine rates plummeted so low that when soldiers returned from Afghanistan, where diphtheria is still a problem, it sparked an epidemic. Around 200,000 unvaccinated children contracted the illness. Of those children, 2% to 3% died. That’s 4,000 to 6,000 dead kids.
Let’s take measles as a case example. The CDC calls it “highly contagious.” Six percent will develop pneumonia, and it’s from this category that most of the measles-related deaths occur. Further, 0.1% of infected children develop encephalitis, or brain inflammation, 0.6% to 0.7% will have seizures, and 0.2% will die. Consider an almost universal occurrence of infection among the unvaccinated, as was previously documented pre-vaxx, and you’re looking at a serious risk of more children dying from a preventable disease. All because our president supports pseudoscience.
There’s plenty of danger here. If Donald Trump removed the requirement for mandatory school vaccinations, kids would get sick: measles, mumps (which can cause sterility), rubella (which can cause devastating birth defects in infected pregnant women), diphtheria, chicken pox, and pertussis. Maybe the infected kids won’t die. But they’ll pass the disease to their elderly grandparents and infant siblings and immune-compromised peers, who are in greater danger. And all the essential oils in the world can’t stop a virus from rampaging through a community.
There’s also the risk of mutation. If allowed to go wild again, these viruses can — and will — mutate. This happened with pertussis, in which the New England Journal of Medicine documented cellular changes that decrease the efficacy of the pertussis vaccine. In this case, these mutations could change the genetic structure of the virus enough to override vaccines designed to protect against it. Then even those of us who are responsible citizens, who are scientifically and community-minded, will find ourselves and our children at risk.
Trump’s not just in bed with the anti-vaxxers, he’s one of them, lending credence to a movement that’s scientifically inaccurate at best and a public health menace at worst. Any change to the childhood vaccination schedule could have disastrous health consequences for the United States at large. We can only hope that science wins here.
Luckily, members of the key Senate committee that oversees the CDC are having none of it. “Sound science is this: vaccines save lives,” Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the committee, told STAT in January. It suggests that Trump will face significant congressional pushback if he tries to push his anti-vaxx views on Congress.
The most terrifying part? We have a president who is unable to read and absorb basic science and who refuses to comprehend the real-world public health ramifications of ditching childhood vaccinations. Set the meetings with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Wakefield aside because that gross negligence and its harmful affects should keep us all up at night.