If you’ve followed the news at all in the last few months, you have probably heard by now that President Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known anti-vaccine activist, in early January to discuss the possible formation of a commission tasked with exploring autism and its causes. Because Kennedy is an outspoken critic of vaccines and has, in the past, supported the notion that autism can be linked to vaccines, the entire scientific community let out a giant, collective, “WTF, Trump?” when Kennedy announced to reporters that Trump had asked him to head up the commission should it be formed.
I have written about vaccines in the past, and it’s no secret that I have zero patience for anti-vaxxers. My nursing degree and years of nursing experience have lead me to the conclusion that vaccines are safe, effective, and a necessary part of any active public health program. Vaccines save lives, millions every year, in fact. And, vaccine research is continuing to evolve, thus making vaccines safer for all patient populations. In short, I don’t understand why people continue to ignore evidenced based medicine and eschew the benefits of vaccination.
I’m going to say it one more time so that even the people in the cheap seats can hear me: Vaccines are safe, effective, and do not cause autism.
Now, I’m going to say it in 140 characters, Twitter style, so that perhaps our seemingly under-qualified president can hear me too: Hey, @DonaldJTrump, 82% of Americans believe vaccines are safe and it’s time you got on board with our thinking. #listenup #becausescience
A recent report by Pew Research Center found that most Americans support vaccination. A whopping 82% of Americans believe that school-aged children should be vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella (the vaccine commonly known as MMR). Let that number sink in: 82% of Americans actually agree on something in this hot political climate. That means that only 18% of people don’t see the benefit of protecting our children against preventable, often deadly diseases.
Further, and perhaps more interestingly, the study found that “[p]eople with low knowledge about science are also less likely to see high preventive health benefits from vaccines.” Okay, let’s break that sentence down: People who don’t have scientific knowledge are often unable to see the benefits behind vaccines. Uh huh. So when our president tweets statements like the ones below, it’s safe to assume that he has a “low knowledge of science,” right?
And that’s what makes his views on vaccination so fucking terrifying: He’s ill-informed, as are millions of Americans, when it comes to vaccination research and efficacy.
For all of my experience and medical knowledge, even I find myself questioning how vaccines work and whether I’ve made the right choices. Recently, we were informed that my 11-year-old daughter was exposed to pertussis, also known as whooping cough, a deadly respiratory infection that can be prevented by getting the DTaP vaccine in infancy and early childhood. When I heard she was exposed, I immediately assumed it was because a parent who didn’t vaccinate their child had put my child at risk. I was angry, and I was frustrated that we now had to take our child to get her DTaP booster earlier than expected because of someone else’s choices (the Tdap is given around the age of 12 to boost immunity to Pertussis).
But, here’s the thing: When I get angry or am unsure about a medical situation, I turn to science. I turn to the evidence. I turn to trusted advisors: our doctors and to reputable sites like the Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics for sound advice based on their professional and scientific backgrounds.
I researched pertussis and found that the rise of whooping cough cases isn’t necessarily because of anti-vaxxer parents. According the CDC, cases in school-aged children are on the rise due to their childhood vaccines wearing off and the necessity of booster vaccinations around the age of 12. Yes, lower vaccination rates do contribute to the rise in pertussis cases, but that’s not the sole reason. I learned that even I need to be diligent about keeping my vaccines up-to-date because whooping cough is serious AF for all populations.
My point? While I did initially jump to conclusions, I researched and sought out the correct answer to my medical questions. And I got my information from reputable, reliable sources.
You know who I didn’t turn to when I needed sound medical advice about pertussis? Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Alicia Silverstone who don’t have a single medical degree to their names but yet insist they are “vaccine-hesitant” because of meritless research. I didn’t listen to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who continues to throw his weight behind medical research that has been repeatedly debunked. Rather, I relied on the people who have spent years researching diseases and developing treatments and cures that are safe for my family to give me the most up-to-date research.
And I’m demanding that President Trump do the very same.
But demanding that our president turn to the experts for vaccine and autism research is not enough. It’s not enough to expect our president to act soundly or rationally, because let’s face it: He’s pretty worried about the ratings for The Apprentice these days. It’s our job as parents and advocates to demand a seat at that autism commission table. It’s our job to hound our lawmakers to hear our concerns about vaccination research with no merit or basis in fact. And it’s our job to demand that decisions about public health be made by the people who are most qualified, not by quacks who have gotten by with a family name and fear-mongering.
Vaccines are safe. Vaccines don’t cause autism. But we now have a president who thinks otherwise. Forget terrorism. Germ warfare is a very real threat to our survival.
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