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he discredited researcher who launched the anti-vaccine movement met with Donald Trump this summer — and found him sympathetic to the cause. Now, with Trump preparing to move into the White House, leaders of the movement are newly energized, hopeful they can undermine decades of public policy promoting childhood vaccinations.

At the most basic level, they’re hoping Trump will use his bully pulpit to advance his oft-stated concern — debunked by an extensive body of scientific evidence — that there’s a link between vaccines and autism.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry,” movement leader Andrew Wakefield told STAT in a phone interview.

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“He didn’t rely upon [drug makers] to get him elected. And he’s a man who seems to speak his mind and act accordingly. So we shall see,” said Wakefield. A former doctor whose medical license was revoked, Wakefield launched the movement to question the safety of vaccines nearly two decades ago with a fraudulent study (which has since been retracted) suggesting that a widely administered vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella can cause autism.

Wakefield and a small group of like-minded activists spent nearly an hour with Trump in the closing months of the presidential campaign. “I found him to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing,” Wakefield said.

Though he would be a powerful ally, there are limits to what Trump can do to undercut evidence-based vaccination policies.

Public health experts said it’s unlikely Trump will pack federal agencies with activists who would change the recommended childhood vaccine schedule or otherwise steer shifts in federal vaccination policy. The evidence that vaccines are safe and effective is so overwhelming, they said, that such a move would prompt a huge outcry from scientists and many politicians on both sides of the aisle.

But experts said there could be a cultural impact of having a doubter in the Oval Office.

Those who seek to undercut trust in vaccines “see in Donald Trump a fellow traveler — someone who, like them, is willing to basically ignore scientific studies and say, ‘This is true. Vaccines cause autism because I believe it’s true,’” said Dr. Paul Offit, the head of the infectious diseases department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Even if he doesn’t change federal policy,” Offit said, “he still is no doubt strengthening the belief some parents have that vaccines have done harm and therefore they should choose not to vaccinate their children.”

Trump’s plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act could also have an indirect effect on childhood vaccination rates, if families lose insurance and become disconnected from primary care, including visits to pediatricians. If that happens, “they’re less likely to engage regular opportunities for their children to get vaccinated. Simple as that,” said Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the School of Public Health at Boston University.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting with Wakefield or the administration’s vaccine policies.

Demands for the new administration

The president-elect’s new nominee to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, Georgia Congressman Dr. Tom Price, has not been vocal on the vaccine issue.

But Price, a former orthopedic surgeon, is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative group that publishes a journal that has promoted discredited views — including the supposed link between vaccines and autism. The group’s executive director, Dr. Jane Orient, confirmed Price’s current membership in an email to STAT.

Trump’s biggest appointment with respect to vaccination policy will be the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The director sets priorities for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases and oversees the staff that helps select an advisory committee to recommend tweaks to the childhood vaccination schedule. Trump’s choice of a surgeon general could also shape the national conversation on vaccines, but that appointment is more symbolic.

Wakefield said he and fellow advocates are focused on two main goals at the federal level.

The first is to convince Congress to repeal a Reagan-era law that effectively moved vaccine injury lawsuits out of the civil courts by setting up a separate compensation system. That system awards compensation to people who can meet strict requirements for showing their injury was caused by a vaccine. Autism is not on the list of recognized injuries that can sometimes stem from vaccines— so activists have long wanted to do away with the system.

A second goal: to get the administration to appoint an independent board to oversee vaccine safety. Many anti-vaccine activists see the CDC, which currently oversees safety, as a corrupt agency in league with drug makers, though they have not produced evidence to back up that allegation.

Other activists have their own wish lists. Kent Heckenlively, a writer active in the movement to undercut vaccines, laid out several goals for the Trump administration in an email to STAT. Among them: give parents the option to get the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella administered as three separate shots. And hold a congressional hearing about alleged fraud at the CDC. (That’s an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that been circulating online for several years.)

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Another blogger, who writes under a pseudonym, laid out 10 demands for Trump. One used the vernacular of the president-elect’s campaign: “Drain the swamp we call the CDC.” Another called for federal intervention in the vaccination schedule: “Don’t allow children to receive more than one vaccine at a doctor appointment.”

A resurgence of deadly diseases

Even as they lay plans to press for federal action, anti-vaccine advocates continue to bolster their lobbying efforts at the state level.

All 50 states allow certain children, such as those who are on chemotherapy or were born with an immune deficiency, to opt out of required vaccinations to protect their health. All but three states also allow exemptions for religious reasons.

Fewer than 20 states allow parents to opt their children out of vaccines due to philosophical objections; activists have been pressing hard to block legislation that would make it harder to get such exemptions. (They’ve even launched political action committees in some states, including Texas and Michigan.)

As the anti-vaccine movement has gained traction, there’s been a resurgence of potentially deadly diseases like measles and whooping cough. Low vaccination rates in some communities helped fuel nearly 700 measles cases in the US in 2014, the most in any year since the disease was declared eliminated in North America back in 2000.

Over the past decade, Trump has repeatedly fanned parents’ unfounded fears of vaccines. During a Republican primary debate last year, Trump said he wants “smaller doses over a longer period of time.” He also told a story about a toddler who was diagnosed with autism after being vaccinated.

Trump used similar language during his meeting with about 10 activists in August, before a rally at a sports arena in Central Florida, Wakefield said. He recalled Trump sharing that he’d seen children of his employees exhibit symptoms of autism after being vaccinated.

Among those attending the meeting: people who have written for an anti-vaccine website and a chiropractor who has donated to Trump. They gave the candidate a copy of “Vaxxed,” an anti-vaccine documentary directed by Wakefield that premiered last spring, and Trump said he’d watch it, Wakefield said.

Wakefield and Trump even posed for a photo that has circulated online in recent weeks.

Wakefield said he didn’t talk to Trump or his team in the final months of the campaign. He declined to comment on whether they’ve communicated since the election.

Correction: A prior version of this story incompletely described the Reagan-era system for awarding compensation to people injured by vaccines.

  • Since when does questioning science a bad thing? All that is stated is that it would look to dis-banned the VAX court (the simple existence of this court is cause for suspicion), and to look into vaccine safety (that is a good thing no matter what side of the argument your on). Nor do I see how that translates to anti-vax? If vaccines are safe then if anything this appointed committee would just further prove that, unless their is something someone is hiding?

  • Many of the pro-vaccine people posting are paid Pharmacy shills and trolls. This article was more than likely paid for by the vaccine manufactures. You can no longer trust any news posted on any site. It is estimated that less than 1% of vaccine injuries are reported. Many injuries and deaths are called “a coincidence” and not reported. We can no longer trust the CDC, their research, their published statistics and our health leaders since they appear to have been compromised and corrupted by the Big Pharmaceutical Companies endless pockets of money and conflict of interest. All you gave to do is research the Dr. William Thompson (CDC whistleblower) case to see that they are faking statistics to promote toxic vaccines. For a good review of vaccines I recommend lectures on YouTube from independent researchers like Dr. Suzanne Humphries (also has a few good books on Amazon) and Dr. Graham Downing (“vaxxed one flew over” is a good lecture on YouTube).
    Legal immunity for vaccine manufactures has encouraged an abandonment of vaccine safety and quality control.
    There must be accountability for vaccine injuries and they must not be mandatory. Hopefully President Trump and Tom Price will shine a light on the Pharmaceutical vaccine corruption and fraud industry and hopefully all crimes against humanity will be brought to justice. The truth will prevail.

    • “It is estimated that less than 1% of vaccine injuries are reported. ”

      Evidence required for this claim.

      “All you gave to do is research the Dr. William Thompson (CDC whistleblower) case to see that they are faking statistics to promote toxic vaccines. ”

      Thompson’s claims have been looked into. There are no hidden/deleted/trashed data sources, the data was all saved and when reevaluated shows no statistically significant rate of autism. The data showing African American boys having higher rates of autism was so low in statistical strength that it would have been unethical to even comment on it, it’s worthless data mining.

      That’s why Hooker’s “evaluation” of the data was retracted.

      You have no evidence for your claims and you should be ashamed.

  • Wow, what a one-sided, irresponsible article that many people will read and believe wholeheartedly. “Even if he doesn’t change federal policy,” Offit said, “he still is no doubt strengthening the belief some parents have that vaccines have done harm and therefore they should choose not to vaccinate their children.” The belief that some parents have? This is way more than a belief. Vaccine injury is a VERY real thing. Im not saying vaccines don’t have their benefits, but please don’t pretend vaccines are not also dangerous, especially to certain subpopulations like me. If your going to talk about “evidence,” then you should be fair yon BOTH sides and acknowledge the truth. This article makes you look like a propaganda machine to those of us who know better.

  • How are we meant to trust vaccines – glass shards found in Sanofi Pasteur’s vaccines meant for babies and no recall from the FDA and the vaccines were being given to babies for nearly 2 years before
    Sanofi Paseur even informed the FDA. However the cosy financial coupling between Big Pharma and the FDA means that no recall was issued and FDA accepted the company’s assurance the vaccine was safe
    Fox in charge of the hen house. This is what is happening all the time and yet we are supposed to just trust….

    We had glass shard particles in Merck’s Gardasil vaccine
    https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/s1220-gardasil-vaccine.html

    Now we have Sanofi Pasteur

    Sanofi Pasteur, one the world’s leading vaccine makers, had a potentially serious and costly problem on its hands: Its Monroe County plant discovered tiny pieces of glass in batches of a vaccine intended for babies.
    Timeline of the delamination problem in Sanofi vaccines.

    April 2, 2013: Delamination discovered in an ActHIB lot during examination of retention samples. Two affected lots are said to have been distributed and will expire Sept. 5 and 6, 2014.

    March 30, 2015: Sanofi informs FDA it found particles in another retention sample of expired ActHIB.

    So it took Sanofi Pasteur almost two years to inform the FDA.
    The FDA did not push back, either. After the regulatory agency found out about the issue, it accepted the company’s assurances that the vaccine was safe.
    However U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that lamellae could cause serious health problems such as an adverse immune system reaction. When confronted with glass contamination, medical manufacturers have erred on the side of caution, alerting the public and issuing sweeping product recalls.

    Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, an advocacy group in Washington, found this explanation unconvincing. He said it reveals the deference the agency affords the pharmaceutical companies it is charged with regulating and the extent to which it relies on the companies to monitor themselves.
    The FDA’s lax oversight is an unintended consequence of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992, which required pharmaceutical companies to subsidize the FDA’s work, according to Carome. The act effectively turned companies into “customers” of the agency, he said, and the agency has since been inclined to treat them accordingly.

    “Too often the FDA is not an effective regulator. They are often too slow to act when there are serious problems,” he said. “The [pharmaceutical] industry is more like a client or customer of the agency, and less like a regulated entity.”

    http://www.mcall.com/news/local/watchdog/mc-sanofi-pasteur-defective-vaccine-vials-20161210-story.html

  • Adverse events are rarely reported as it is not compulsory. It is estimated only 1 – 10% are actually documented.

    Adverse events following immunization with vaccines containing adjuvants.
    Cerpa-Cruz S1, Paredes-Casillas P, Landeros Navarro E, Bernard-Medina AG, Martínez-Bonilla G, Gutiérrez-Ureña

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23576057

    Forty-three out of 120 patients with moderate or severe manifestations following immunization were hospitalized from 2008 to 2011. All patients fulfilled at least 2 major and 1 minor criteria suggested by Shoenfeld and Agmon-Levin for ASIA diagnosis. The most frequent clinical findings were pyrexia 68%, arthralgias 47%, cutaneous disorders 33%, muscle weakness 16% and myalgias 14%. Three patients had diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome, one patient had Adult-Still’s disease 3 days after vaccination. A total of 76% of the events occurred in the first 3 days post-vaccination. Two patients with previous autoimmune disease showed severe adverse reactions with the reactivation of their illness. Minor local reactions were present in 49% of patients. Vaccines containing adjuvants may be associated with an increased risk of autoimmune/inflammatory adverse events following immunization.

    • “It is estimated” – no evidence presented. Make a claim, supply evidence. The study you link to is irrelevant – they took 120 people who had adverse reactions (out of how many? hundreds of thousands?) and found that 43 of them were hospitalized, some of which already have autoimmune problems. This is not a big problem – you’re more likely to have adverse effects from getting the thing you’re being vaccinated against than from the vaccine itself.

  • Cassandra, I retract what I said because it gives me pleasure dealing with one trick ponies like Sue that rely on junk science and don’t have the breadth of knowledge that you possess, seeing that she only posts on one subject (Sue, are you too cheap to sign up for Stat plus? You and your conspiracy theorist friends could make some money for the blog). Anyway, since it is public information here below is a technique for giving an IM injection, not really all that hard. Not dispensing medical information, just sharing information.

    https://www.drugs.com/cg/how-to-give-an-intramuscular-injection.html

  • If aunts, uncles, grandparents, & immediate family members had the power to approve of, or had access to administer vaccinations, the anti-vax movement would die.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to surreptitiously vaccinate my grandchildren if my son/daughters became inflamed with conspiracy theories…I suspect a majority of anti-vaxxers’ immediate relatives would opt in as well.

    • Do you have training in proper technique for am intramuscular injection? Otherwise leave it to the pros, besides you can’t get the vaccine “to go” like a Big Mac.

    • Cassandra, you are not only terribly ignorant, and arrogant in that ignorance, but ignoble as well.

      And, I see that Pharmvet1 is still pretending to be an expert; displaying, once again, no shame after being caught and outed for recommending a non-existent Hep C vaccine, and declaring Primatene Mist is a homeopathic product (both WRONG).

    • CTC (cold-temp-chain) & intra-muscular vaccines will soon give way to micro-needle patches, hardly less innocuous than a band-aid® and easily mailed. That said, since mail-order Ru-486 didn’t end reproduction rights conflict, neither do I expect adherent vaccines to end anti-VAX madness. Only siblings & grandparents can render the movement moot.

  • In “Louder than Words”, Jenny McCarthy wrote that the Hepatitis C vaccine “wreaked havoc “on a friend’s child. She has, as far as I know, never admitted she was wrong about that. In fact, I don’t believe she has ever apologized for being wrong about anything vaccine wise.

    How anybody could confuse McCarthy’s “acting” career with a medical degree is beyond me.

    • Gee, it sounds like Jenny should get together with Pharmvet1, although Jenny never put herself out there as a medical expert, which Pharmvet1 seems to be attempting to do. She came under vicious attack for simply describing what happened to her son after he went in for vaccinations. And it is typical of the pharmaceutical/medical mafia combine to have no empathy whatsoever for her or what her son went through (he nearly lost his life). In the case of her friend, she probably mixed up C with B, which IS causing a great deal of damage.

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