The selection of vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to head a national vaccination panel brought out some strong reactions from doctors.
On Tuesday, noted vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., walked into Trump Tower to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. He walked out as the head of a new commission studying the development and safety of vaccinations.
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Kennedy, a nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, told reporters following the meeting that the president-elect had asked him to chair a new government commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. (A Trump spokesperson said later on Twitter that “Trump is considering a ‘committee on Autism’ but "no decisions have been made.")
Kennedy is widely known as a proponent of the theory that vaccinations are linked to autism.
The controversy comes on the heels of another recent vaccine-related uproar, this one stemming from a blog post written by Daniel Neides, MD, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Neides wrote that “newborns…are being over-burdened with preservatives and adjuvants in the vaccines" and claimed that the formaldehyde in a flu shot made him ill. The Clinic responded on Twitter, saying in part “We fully support vaccines to protect patients & employees. Statements made by our physician do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic."
Reaction to Kennedy’s appointment was swift in the medical community, including from the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose leadership issued a statement reiterating the safety of vaccinations to protect children’s health and save lives. “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives,” the statement read in part.
The American Medical Association also weighed in with its concern about the new commission through a statement by its board chair, Patrice A. Harris, MD, noting the new body, “would cause unnecessary confusion and adversely impact parental decision-making and immunization practices.”
Medical Economics sought the opinions of some of its readers on the topic as well. Here’s what they had to say:
“Frankly, words fail me. The medical community takes vaccine safety incredibly seriously. … It can get absolutely exhausting on the ground trying to convince and reassure parents about how safe and effective vaccines are. Thimerosal and vaccines are not linked with autism. This isn't a question and this hasn't been a question for years. The literature and the scientific consensus are as strong as they get… Giving a national, public platform to a prominent critic of vaccines and vaccine policy is basically a slap in the face to the scientific and medical communities.”
Dennis Z. Kuo, MD, MHS
Primary care physician, Buffalo, New York
Associate professor, University at Buffalo
Chief, Division of General Pediatrics
UBMD Pediatrics / Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo
“At least Trump is consistently acting like an idiot. …Not many rays of sunlight in his grim microcosm.”
JT Bakos, MD
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“It is as bad as all [Trump’s] other picks, which seem designed to turn his cabinet into an echo chamber of non-expert but wealthy people who will agree with him and say yes to everything he currently likes to believe, and help make that into policy. [Trump] has made no secret of his own anti-vaccination stance, nor of the fact he does not think much of physicians; he has come out and said he really thinks we are in it for the money and don’t give a damn about the health of our patients… I suppose we ought to be grateful he did not appoint Andrew Wakefield [the author of a discredited study linking vaccinations and autism] himself.”
Vikki Stefans, MD
Primary care physician/pediatrician
Arkansas Children’s Hospital
Little Rock, Arkansas
“This will depend heavily on who else will be on the committee. The medical community needs to watch this closely.”
Timothy Piontkowski, D.O.
“As a Southern California family physician who lived through the scary Disneyland measles outbreak of two years ago as well as the much larger one of 1989, I am appalled by the notion that there are any ‘vaccine safety’ issues that need to be addressed. What actually needs to be addressed are the all too real public health risks that are being created by declining immunization rates. Putting Robert Kennedy Jr. in charge of this investigation only adds insult to injury since his support of the thoroughly discredited vaccine/autism link cannot help but inform whatever findings and recommendations will result.”
Deborah Lerner, MD
Los Angeles, California
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“Such an appointment and potential stance against routine immunization runs counter to all current knowledge with regard to the safety of current vaccines far outweighing any risk. In fact, it is rare in life to encounter an area wherein the risk/benefit analysis falls virtually 100% in favor of benefit. … [T]he Amish population was, in general, vaccine-averse until they too realized the toll on their infants and children of becoming ill from these preventable childhood infections. It is my recollection that what really convinced them to allow for vaccination was the occurrence of some number of cases of polio and the known complications thereafter. Hopefully, American society will not have to revisit these catastrophic errors in good judgment!”
Jonathan R. Dreazen, MD
Family physician / occupational medicine
“Not a surprise-[Trump] doesn’t believe in global warming, climate change or science. What surprises me is that RFK Jr. is part of this. It is going to send us back to the 1930s in many ways.”
Sally H. Ginsburg, MD/