With the election of President Donald Trump, anti-vaxxers now have a sympathetic ear in the White House, heading federal agencies with the power to change the narrative on vaccine safety.
According to The Independent, during a meeting with leaders of the anti-vaccine movement during the election, Trump indicated he still believes that childhood immunizations cause autism and is prepared to do something about it.
On more than 20 occasions, Mr Trump has tweeted about there being a link between vaccines and autism, something experts at the government’s leading public health institute say is not true. He also repeated the claim during a Republican primary debate, a remark that was immediately dismissed as false by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
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.
Following his electoral victory, Trump also met with anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Robert Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy later told members of his environmental law firm he would be taking a leave of absence to chair an advisory panel on the issue at the president-elect’s request. “Mr Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it” he told reporters.
To date, Trump has not established an advisory panel, but Kennedy has met with numerous senior administration officials, including those within the department that regulates vaccines.
A recent report in StatNews said the 64-year-old lawyer and campaigner met with senior officials from the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health. The FDA said Mr Kennedy met with Dr Peter Marks, head of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and other FDA staff on March 30 2017. Vaccines are regulated by this division of the FDA.
At the end of May 2017, Mr Kennedy met top leaders of the NIH. Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak attended the meeting, along with the heads of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the report said.
It is presently unclear how much support the president has within federal agencies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unwavering in its support for and recommendation of vaccinating children.
In a statement to The Independent, the CDC said arguments against vaccinations are not backed up by credible science and that maintaining high levels of cooperation is imperative for keeping the general population healthy.
“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.”