Vaccine controversy makes pediatricians' job harder, doc says

For pediatricians already faced with parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children, this week’s news that President-elect Donald Trump had asked outspoken vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a commission on vaccine safety is not welcome news, according to one physician.

“Donald Trump just made my job harder. The work of every medical provider for children is likely to become more difficult, and our nation may well become sicker,” Daniel Summers, M.D., a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote in The Washington Post.

He was reacting to the news that Kennedy, a vaccine skeptic, had met with Trump and announced that the president-elect asked him to head a new a commission to study the safety of vaccines. Many physicians reacted with dismay that Kennedy was under consideration for such a panel. 

Summers said hardly a day goes by in his office where he does not give children vaccines to protect them against diseases that could make them seriously ill or kill them. But he also encounters the effects of the antivaccine movement on a regular basis, noting that despite the evidence vaccines are safe and effective, some parents choose not to give their children the HPV vaccine that can protect them against several different cancers. 

His office asked parents to agree to protect their children by having them immunized according to the standard schedule for early childhood, but allows them to opt out of a few shots later on. Kennedy has advocated for parental opt-out provisions for routine childhood vaccinations.

Other voices have spoken out on the controversy. In a piece for CNN, Sanjay Gupta, M.D., the outlet's chief medical correspondent, said, “The benefit of vaccines is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.”

And also writing in The Washington Post, Saad B. Omer, a professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University, said he worries Trump could politicize vaccines and undermine the trust people have in what he called “one of the great public health interventions in human history.”

For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement reiterating its position that vaccines protect children’s health. “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives,” the group said.