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Having taken root in the Republican Party in recent years, the anti-vaccination movement now appears to reach some of the highest members of the conservative political scene, including President Donald Trump himself as well as governors and lawmakers.

Trump has been claiming for years that vaccines are assuredly linked to autism, and newly-elected Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has made clear that he supports parents’ rights to forego vaccinating their children.

At least two other Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2018 also espoused anti-vaxx views — one of whom is a medical doctor.

Salon reported last year that Stitt — who, together with his wife, decided not to have their children received all the recommended vaccinations — has said it is “absolutely wrong” that parents are forced to vaccinate their children if they are to attend public school:

“I believe in choice. And we’ve got six children and we don’t vaccinate, we don’t do vaccinations on all of our children,” he said in February, according to the Daily Beast. “So we definitely pick and choose which ones we’re gonna do. It’s gotta be up to the parents, we can never mandate that. I think there’s legislation right now that are trying to mandate that to go to public schools, it’s absolutely wrong. My wife was home-schooled, I went to public schools, our kids go to Christian school, and that’s back to a parent’s choice.”

And that mentality travels all the way to the very head of the Republican Party: Trump has tweeted about a supposed link between vaccines and autism at least 20 times over the years, according to The Independent.

Prior the election, Mr Trump met with four prominent anti-vaccine campaigners at a fundraiser in Florida – disbarred British doctor Andrew Wakefield, Mark Blaxill, editor-at-large of the Age of Autism website, Gary Kompothecras, a chiropractor and Trump donor from Sarasota, and Jennifer Larson, an entrepreneur who has campaigned against the use of vaccines in her home state of Minnesota.

Trump also met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — son of Robert Kennedy who was assassinated in 1968 — who later said had agreed to chair an advisory panel on vaccine policy, though The Independent noted that panel has yet to materialize.

But Trump’s own public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adamantly disagrees with the president’s conclusions, telling The Independent in a statement:

“Credible scientific evidence shows that vaccines are very safe and do not cause autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“CDC, the Federal Drug Administration, and the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices, regularly review data to ensure that vaccine recommendations are based on the latest available science to provide safe and effective protection against serious diseases. Concerned parents should be reassured that recommended childhood vaccines have a strong safety record.”

It added: “For the general population, maintaining high vaccination levels is important not only for the individual person but also to protect potentially deadly diseases from spreading to the most vulnerable among us, such as patients with weakened immune systems and newborn children who are too young to be vaccinated.”

The anti-vaxx movement is not just another difference in political views; it holds potentially serious consequences for the public at large.

Daniel Summers, a New England pediatrician who slammed the anti-vaccine rhetoric in an op-ed for the Washington Post, later warned in an interview with the Independent that letting these baseless talking points go unchallenged could have dire consequences.

“The danger is that diseases that have become fleetingly uncommon will come roaring back,” he explained. “The only vaccine-preventable illness that has been wholly eradicated is smallpox. All the rest linger in some pocket of the human population or another, and without vigilance to keep them at bay, they could come back.”