Trump Names Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Chair Vaccine Safety Panel

President-elect’s remarks energize thimerosal opponents

Vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has accepted Donald Trump’s invitation to chair a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, according to an article posted on the STAT website. “President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it,” Kennedy told reporters.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he wanted “smaller doses over a longer period of time.” He previously tweeted: “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes—AUTISM. Many such cases!”

While Trump’s remarks on vaccines have alarmed public health advocates, they have energized the antivaccination movement, according to the article. Last summer, Trump met with Andrew Wakefield, a former medical doctor who wrote a well-publicized study that kicked off the movement. Wakefield’s study was later discredited, and his medical license was revoked.

Kennedy, too, is no stranger to the vaccine controversy. In 2005 he wrote a purported exposé, copublished by Salon and Rolling Stone, contending that scientists were hiding the link between thimerosal and autism. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines. Years later, Salon retracted the story, noting that its basic thesis was inaccurate. Rolling Stone deleted it.

Then, in 2014, Kennedy edited a book titled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: The Evidence Supporting the Immediate Removal of Mercury—a Known Neurotoxin—from Vaccines.

In related news, the Cleveland Clinic has vowed to discipline Daniel Neides, MD, the medical director and COO of the health system’s Wellness Institute, for a controversial blog on vaccines and toxins that he posted on January 6. In his column, Neides condemned flu shots and other vaccines because of the “toxins” they contain and questioned their link to autism—a link that has long been debunked among physicians.

“Does the vaccine burden—as has been debated for years—cause autism? I don't know and will not debate that here,” Neides wrote. “What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being overburdened with PRESERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES.”

He also challenged the timing of vaccines, particularly for infants. “Some of the vaccines have helped reduce the incidence of childhood communicable diseases, like meningitis and pneumonia. That is great news. But not at the expense of neurologic diseases like autism and ADHD increasing at alarming rates,” he wrote.

After receiving a wave of criticism—including calls for his resignation—Neides issued the following statement through a hospital spokeswoman: “I apologize and regret publishing a blog that has caused so much concern and confusion for the public and medical community. I fully support vaccinations, and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them.”

His employers were quick to issue their own statement, saying: “Cleveland Clinic is fully committed to evidence-based medicine. Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways. We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable. Our physician published his statement without authorization from Cleveland Clinic. His views do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.”

Sources: STAT; January 10, 2017; and Becker’s Hospital Review; January 9, 2017.