Just this morning, there was a story out claiming that Jared Kushner has told people privately that Trump never really believed the Obama birth-certificate skepticism he pushed in 2011. Which is … sort of reassuring, I guess? Better that he didn’t fall for it than that he did, although if Kushner’s right it means Trump knowingly pushed bad information because he thought it would help him get political traction on the grassroots right. (And it did.) I assumed that his vaccine skepticism was of a piece with that. Maybe he didn’t really believe it but was willing to affect credulousness about this dubious wankery, despite the risk posed to children by propagating the idea, because in its own weird way it would burnish his reputation for being “politically incorrect.” The entire medical establishment is telling you that vaccines don’t cause autism? Well, Trump has never played by the establishment’s rules, man.
But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe he really is an anti-vaxxer.
After meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower Tuesday, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told reporters that Trump has asked him to “chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity” and that he has accepted…
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy told the press. “He says 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.”
Kennedy drew fire last year for describing a “holocaust” of children allegedly hurt by immunization at a screening of a film on the topic (he later apologized for the term)…
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is no link between autism and vaccines, citing numerous subsequent studies. An Immunization Safety Commission organized by the Institute of Medicine examined the issue and reached the same conclusion in multiple reports. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that spacing out vaccinations increases childhood exposure to disease and that doctors should follow the recommended schedule.
Several hours passed this afternoon after Kennedy told reporters that Trump had asked him to chair a commission on “vaccine safety” before Team Trump released this. Unless you want to believe that Kennedy imagined the offer, this reads like a walkback by the incoming White House after absorbing a ton of criticism on social media:
Trump pushes back on RFK statement pic.twitter.com/FTpzGUn9d6
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 10, 2017
“They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone. This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country,” Kennedy told an audience in 2015. A 2005 piece he wrote for Salon on the alleged danger of using thimerosal in vaccines was later retracted by the magazine. Despite all of that, if he’s telling the truth in the clip below, it was Trump who invited him to today’s meeting. Kennedy didn’t request the meeting to lobby him. Trump called him in, allegedly, as a valued voice on vaccine policy.
Why would he do that if he wasn’t a true believer himself? This is a guy, after all, who took time from his busy schedule this past summer to meet with Andrew Wakefield, author of the since-discredited Lancet study from 1998 that kickstarted the vaccines/autism craze, and several other anti-vaxxers. Trump might not be able to do much to set policy on this from the Oval Office, but that’s not the risk of him gladhanding people like Kennedy. The risk is the signal it sends, especially on the right, that vaccine skepticism is a credible, respectably mainstream position.
Those who seek to undercut trust in vaccines “see in Donald Trump a fellow traveler — someone who, like them, is willing to basically ignore scientific studies and say, ‘This is true. Vaccines cause autism because I believe it’s true,’” said Dr. Paul Offit, the head of the infectious diseases department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Even if he doesn’t change federal policy,” Offit said, “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.”
The media will help too by questioning Trump about it, thinking they’re scoring a point on him by exposing his fringiness on vaccines when all they’re really doing is giving him a megaphone. We’ve reached the point as a country where it’s in the public interest not to ask the president about certain subjects because of the health risk his ignorance poses. And of course, as a matter of pure politics, it’s bananas for him to go chasing after Kennedy. Every Republican in Congress will be grilled by the press now on whether they support Trump’s position or the scientific consensus. For the moment voters in both parties overwhelmingly support vaccination (although Republicans are a bit more reluctant about mandatory vaccination due to libertarian concerns), but the more attention the issue receives and the more heat Trump takes for it from the right’s enemies, the more the predictable stupid phenomenon of partisan wagon-circling will drive down Republican support. It’s idiocy on every level, and entirely needless. Kennedy should never have been allowed within a thousand yards of Trump.
Exit question: Is Trump’s vaccine skepticism one of those situations where we’re supposed to take him seriously but not literally or literally but not seriously? Look into his heart, I guess.