President-elect Donald Trump has met with and asked Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a commission on vaccines. Kennedy is a vocal skeptic on vaccinations, asserting that they induce autism in children, a belief that has been widely rejected and deemed dangerous by the scientific community.
On Jan. 10, Kennedy met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York. He later told reporters that he had arrived by Trump's invitation.
"President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it," Kennedy said, according to The Washington Post. "His opinion doesn't matter, but the science does matter, and we ought to be reading the science, and we ought to be debating the science."
The environmental activist, who is the son of the late U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, added that he and the president-elect are decidedly in favor of vaccines but they want to ensure "they're safe as they possibly can be."
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Kennedy revealed that Trump had asked him to "chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity," according to CBS News.
The announcement marks the first mention of such a commission, and has medical professionals alarmed.
"That's very frightening, it's difficult to imagine anyone less qualified to serve on a commission for vaccine science," said dean Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College.
Hotez noted that all evidence indicates that autism is a genetic condition that is not triggered by vaccinations.
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"The science is clear: massive evidence showing link between vaccines and autism, and as both a scientist who develops vaccines for poverty related to neglected diseases and the father of an adult daughter with autism, there's not even plausibility for a link."
The belief that vaccines cause autism originated from a study that was retracted by the author after his research was found to be fraudulent. For over a decade, Kennedy has proposed that thimerosal, a chemical that was once used in children's vaccines, induces mercury poisoning in children and results in autism, Vox reports.
Science writers have accused vaccine skeptics like Kennedy of insinuating a widespread conspiracy that would have to involve the entire scientific community. Kennedy has also opposed state laws that would mandate that parents have their children vaccinated to preserve group immunity.
In 2015, Kennedy drew controversy while promoting an anti-vaccination documentary called "Trace Amounts." While introducing the film at a screening, he described the vaccination of children as a "holocaust."
Kennedy later apologized for his choice of words but did not retract his assertion that vaccinations cause autism.
Trump himself has been a vocal skeptic of vaccinations. Since 2012, he has suggested on social media that there is a link between vaccines and autism.
"Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes — AUTISM!" Trump tweeted out in March 2014.
During the presidential race, Trump advocated for providing children with the scientifically recommended amount of vaccinations but over a longer period of time. Executive Director Karen Remley of the American Academy of Pediatrics blasted his comments, deeming them a dangerous suggestion.
"Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer," Remley said. "Vaccines work, plain and simple."
In Hotez's view, instilling distrust toward vaccines in the general public will lead to the return of deadly diseases and higher fatality rates in children.
"Our nation's public health will suffer if this nascent neo-antivaxxer movement is not stopped immediately," Hotez concluded.
Shortly after Kennedy's comments to the press, reporter Hallie Jackson of MSNBC tweeted out a statement offered to her by the Trump transition team.
"The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a committee on Autism... however no decisions have been made at this time," the statement read.