Trump jolts science, gives anti-vax movement a booster dose

measles
The mid to late 1960s U.S. Public Health Service announcement from the Office of the Surgeon General, William H. Stewart is particularly relevant today.

Anti-vax activists in the U.S. are already cheering. A presidential commission on vaccine safety (read a link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism) is setting the ground for further erosion of the merits of vaccination and instilling more fear and scepticism in the minds of the people.

On January 10, the well-known vaccine denier Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the media that he has been asked to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity”. Though the Trump team said no invitation has been issued, it did admit that President-elect Donald Trump was “exploring the possibility” of such a commission.

In August last year, Trump met the fraudulent British scientist Andrew Wakefield, who first made up the vaccine-autism connection in 1998 through a paper published in The Lancet.  He has been actively advocating the link despite his work being discredited and retracted in 2010. The BMJ exposed his fraud.

Trump and Kennedy are among a growing number of people who strongly believe in the link between MMR vaccine and autism despite several studies not finding any evidence to support the link.  A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) involving nearly 96,000 children in the U.S. found that “receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), regardless of whether older siblings had autism”.

A 2010 study found “no association of autism with either MMR or a single measles vaccine”. A 2002 study in The New England of Medicine involving more than half a million children found no link between vaccination and autism.  The study concluded: “There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.”

measles-vaccine

According to many, including Kennedy, thimerosal — a mercury-based preservative in multi-dose vial vaccines — was thought to be responsible for causing autism. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is cleared from the human body more quickly than methylmercury, and is therefore less likely to cause any harm. But most anti-vax people think thimerosal metabolises into methylmercury, which is wrong. The most common side-effects of thimerosal are minor reactions like redness and swelling at the site of injection. Although rare, some people may be allergic to thimerosal.

Many studies have failed to find a link between thimerosal and autism. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine said: “The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favours rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favours rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”

Beginning 2001, thimerosal was removed from almost all childhood vaccines. If the link between thimerosal and autism were indeed true there should have been a drop in the number of autism cases. Instead, autism rates continued to increase!

Never mind the evidence disproving the link between MMR vaccine and autism, with Trump and his administration strongly believing in the link, there is only one option left. “Scientists, medics and commentators who have fought vaccine disinformation in the past must take a deep breath and return to the fray. There is no need to wait for this commission to be announced officially. There is no need to wait until it issues its findings. There is no cause to be surprised if it shows little regard for science — or even if it targets scientists who speak out in favour of vaccination. Those who claim a link between vaccines and autism can do so only by discrediting the scientific evidence and, often, the scientists who gathered it. Kennedy’s reference to investigating vaccine safety “and scientific integrity” provides ample warning of what is to come. Scientists should get their retaliation in first. Lives are at stake,” a  Nature Editorial warns.

Here are some of the some of the tweets by Trump on vaccine-derived autism:

 

 

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