President-elect Donald Trump falsely claimed childhood vaccines cause autism during a Republican primary debate in September 2015.
Trump gave his opinion of when and how vaccinations should be administered:
There's people that work for me, just the other day, two-and-a-half years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and, a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic. I'm in favor of vaccines. Do them over a longer period of time. Same amount, but just in little sections and I think you're going to see a big impact on autism.
In response to Trump's statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said "claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature," noted The Washington Post.
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The idea of a link between vaccinations and autism began when British researcher Andrew Wakefield and his team linked the MMR -- measles, mumps and rubella -- vaccine to autism in a fraudulent study that was published by The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, in 1998. This launched an anti-vaccine movement online.
Wakefield and his team had their research funded by lawyers of parents who were suing companies that make vaccines.
The Lancet disavowed and retracted Wakefield's study in February 2010. The BMJ -- formerly the British Medical Journal -- reported in 2011 that some of the parents of children in Wakefield's study said their kids did not have autism.
Some of the other children who supposedly had no problems before being vaccinated actually had developmental problems before the vaccinations.
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Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders all found no link between autism and vaccines, reported The Washington Post.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Trump tweeted in 2012: "Lots of autism and vaccine response. Stop these massive doses immediately. Go back to single, spread out shots! What do we have to lose."
In September 2014, Trump tweeted: "I am being proven right about massive vaccinations -- the doctors lied. Save our children & their future."
Wakefield, who later lost his medical license in the U.K., met with Trump in summer 2016.
Wakefield recently told the medical news site STAT:
For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. He didn’t rely upon [drug makers] to get him elected. And he’s a man who seems to speak his mind and act accordingly. So we shall see. I found him to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing.
Trump’s transition team would not comment on Trump's conversation with Wakefield, or even on the Trump administration's position on vaccines.
A Trump appointee will be the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which currently says vaccines do not cause autism and sets the recommended vaccine schedules.
Wakefield said that he and other anti-vaccine advocates hope Trump will take vaccines out of the hands of the CDC.
Dr. Paul Offit, of the infectious diseases department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told STAT:
Even if [Trump] doesn’t change federal policy, he still is no doubt strengthening the belief some parents have that vaccines have done harm and therefore they should choose not to vaccinate their children.