Editorials

Trump, Kennedy and the threat of an anti-vax vaccine policy

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Kennedy said Trump had asked him “to chair a commission on vaccine safety.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Kennedy said Trump had asked him “to chair a commission on vaccine safety.” The Associated Press

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a well-known environmentalist from a well-known political family with an unfortunate habit of peddling conspiracy theories about life-saving vaccines.

In 2005, he wrote a Rolling Stone article, based on discredited and retracted research, fallaciously linking autism to preservatives in vaccinations. In 2015, at a screening of an anti-vaccine film in Sacramento, he infamously used the word “holocaust” to describe supposed vaccine “injuries” to children.

Later that year, as Californians will remember, he became one of the better-known opponents of Senate Bill 277, the landmark bill by Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, tightening the state’s vaccine mandates after the Disneyland measles outbreak.

That bill passed despite Kennedy’s efforts, and it was a good thing: The anti-vax movement had compromised immunity badly in communities throughout California. Measles wasn’t the only childhood disease making a dangerous comeback; whooping cough also was on the upswing.

But as Californians learned from that experience, vigilance must remain constant. This week, Kennedy emerged from Trump Tower with the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump had asked him “to chair a commission on vaccine safety.”

No one pushing the canard that vaccines cause autism should be setting immunization policy in this country.

Scientists and public health experts immediately went ballistic, but the announcement was hardly surprising. During the Republican primary debates, Trump trafficked in vaccine misinformation himself.

We’ll be clear: No one pushing the canard that vaccines cause autism should be setting immunization policy in this country. A federal advisory committee of medical and public health experts has already established smart, responsible recommendations on vaccinations. Reams of research have found zero links between autism and immunization. And science-denying anti-vaxxers have already hurt too many children.

Kennedy’s claims, sincere though they may be, are dangerous nonsense. They’re of a piece with his assertion, in 2006, that the Republican Party stole the 2004 election, and his 2013 speech in which he said he doesn’t believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of his uncle, John F. Kennedy.

Shortly after Kennedy shared his news with reporters, Trump’s team issued a statement saying that the president-elect had made “no decisions,” was merely “exploring the possibility of forming a commission on autism” and was talking to lots of people. Kennedy’s office said he would have no further comment for now.

Trump has a nasty pattern of summoning well-known political figures only to make them look foolish; just ask Al Gore, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie. But he also has a nasty pattern of nominating people to positions where they could do serious damage.

Putting Kennedy in charge of vaccine policy would be like naming a labor secretary who bashes worker protections. Or an education secretary who might be out to gut public education. Or an energy secretary who wants the Department of Energy to be dismantled.

Except in this case, children’s lives would be at stake.

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