Anti-vaccine movement fears grow as Trump takes office

Scientists worry that reports President Donald Trump may establish a panel on vaccine safety headed by longtime vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could cause some people to refuse protective immunizations, leading to epidemics of highly contagious diseases.

Public health experts interviewed by Scientific American worry that such a presidential committee could undermine confidence in vaccines, which could lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The anti-vaccine movement has used the argument that the rise in autism cases may be linked to vaccines, despite the fact the theory is based on a fraudulent study that has long been debunked my medical experts. But just the formation of a presidential panel to once again study the issue may lead parents to refuse vaccinations for their children.

“My fear is that people will think that we have not done these studies. That fear alone could lead people to withhold vaccines from their children,” Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit that supports autism research, told the publication.

Many in the medical community have sounded the alarm and expressed dismay over reports of the proposed presidential panel.  Earlier this month William Schaffner, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said he was “surprised and dismayed” that Trump would consider naming Kennedy to such a panel. He worried that such a platform will give legitimacy to Kennedy’s unproven ideas.

Anti-vaccine movement gains steam

And earlier this month, a Cleveland Clinic physician wrote a column that also cast doubt on the safety of vaccines, causing furor within the medical community and also within the organization.

Part of the problem is that vaccines have worked to eradicate diseases to such an extent that the public doesn’t remember the number of people who suffered or died from them.

Yet a piece in the Atlantic features a network of doctors who support their patients’ decision to avoid or delay vaccines for fear they may cause adverse health outcomes.  

And the number of parents who refuse vaccinations for their children seem to be on the rise, according to recent research. Indeed, 73% of pediatricians surveyed say that parents are opting out of vaccines for their children.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows a rise in nonmedical exemptions of vaccinations in some states.

Lawmakers, public push back on concerns

Despite fears of an increasing backlash to vaccines, Senators interviewed by STAT don’t support Trump’s efforts to advance the anti-vaccine movement. Eighteen senators told the publication they were confident in the nation’s vaccination system. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions  said simply,: “Sound science is this: Vaccines save lives.”

And the majority of the public also supports the scientific evidence of vaccine safety, according to a survey (PDF) by The Huffington Post. Fifty-four percent said they believe science that supports safety of vaccines.