The idea that President Donald Trump may put a Vaccine Safety Commission together in 2017 has caused much concern in the medical community. Trump is spotlighting a debate regarding the link between childhood vaccines and autism that was thought to be put to rest quite a few years ago. Autism has become a health concern affecting an increasing number of American families, and Trump believes there are more questions to be asked about the science behind it.
Autism Speaks defines the disorder as a condition that causes awkward social interaction and communication skills along with repetitive behaviors. The number of American children diagnosed on the autism spectrum is 10 times higher than it was 40 years ago, a fact that has been explained by differences in how autism is defined and diagnosed today. Naturally, parents want to know what they can do to avoid risks. According to the Autism Speaks website:
We know that toxic exposures during pregnancy and complications associated with delivery can disrupt brain processes before birth and shortly afterwards. Mutations in the genes associated with autism can affect how the brain develops and functions.
What is Trump’s Position?
There are speculations that this is a personal issue for Trump because his son, Barron, appears to show some behavioral signs of autism, but Trump has not confirmed the gossip. He has commented more than once, beginning as early as 2012 and as recently as a 2015 debate, that he does believe a link to autism exists. He also believes that it would be safer to administer vaccines to children in smaller doses over longer periods of time while investigating the matter thoroughly.
Who Will Lead the Commission?
Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to ask him to lead the Commission on Vaccine Safety. Kennedy is a radio host, environmental activist, author and attorney – not connected to the medical community – but a known proponent of the theory that vaccines are linked to autism. He will accept the appointment if Trump proceeds with the commission. Kennedy published an article in 2005 in Rolling Stone magazine called “Deadly Immunity.” He talked about the dangers of thimerosal, an ingredient in a few vaccines, and accused government researchers of hiding the link to autism and other brain disorders. He insisted health services knew they were poisoning American children, and he warned parents to opt out of childhood vaccinations.
What Does the Medical Community Think?
Pediatricians feel this is a dead issue since the original report sparking the debate back in 1998 was completely and thoroughly discredited. Research scientist Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues were paid by attorneys involved in vaccine-related lawsuits to establish a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Research surveys and investigations following the publication did not confirm his findings, and his medical license was revoked.
The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians are worried that a new commission will reignite the potential for damage and confusion. We have already seen an adverse impact and skepticism around public safety since the late 1990s. At the time, autism diagnoses had been increasing without a known cause. Autism has since been explained by genetic abnormalities in the brain’s function and structure.
What is the Potential Impact?
When the 1998 report was published, parents began reconsidering their positions on vaccines. Several years later, in 2008, the Polings family sued the Department of Health and Human Services for compensation under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and won. The American Academy of Pediatrics shows that more and more moms and dads are now refusing the shots for their children. Two surveys in 2006 and in 2013 saw a 12 percent increase in the number pediatricians with parents refusing vaccines over a period of 7 years.
Then, 200 Americans came down with measles at Disneyland in 2015. This is a disease that was considered officially eradicated in 2000. Children who had not been vaccinated were determined to be the cause, according to the CDC. About a year later, a mumps epidemic on college campuses caused another scare. In this case, though, it was shown that some of the infected people had been vaccinated, which indicated that a new strain may be the source.
Many diseases have been eliminated in the U.S. but not necessarily worldwide. As easy as it is to travel, some of these highly contagious diseases can be brought back from vacation or business travel, upping the risk of an outbreak. Vaccinations are still necessary to prevent a resurgence. If too many parents refuse to vaccinate their children in an effort to protect them against autism – which may well be an unfounded fear – they may instead put their children and others at risk for exposure, including spreading diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and polio. Reemergence of these diseases would be a major setback to the medical community and to society.
President Trump is not convinced that current research has found a concrete answer to the cause of autism and that there still may be more work to be done to protect families from this growing problem. Whether his proposed commission on vaccine safety will help or hurt the cause of the medical community remains to be seen.