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ASHINGTON — Outspoken vaccine critic Robert Kennedy Jr. said Tuesday that he had accepted a position in Donald Trump’s administration as chair of a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, in what would be the clearest sign yet of the president-elect’s suspicions about vaccines.

Kennedy’s remarks followed his meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower and immediately sparked outrage from scientists, pediatricians, and public health experts, who fear the incoming administration could give legitimacy to skeptics of childhood immunizations despite a huge body of scientific research demonstrating that vaccines are safe. Many of those skeptics believe vaccines are a cause of autism.

Hours later, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement that the president-elect was “exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism,” but said “no decisions have been made at this time.”

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Kennedy was unequivocal about an offer when speaking to reporters at Trump Tower in New York after the meeting. He also said Trump has doubts and questions about current vaccine policies.

“His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science,” Kennedy said. “And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have — he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I — but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”

In an interview with Science, Kennedy said there would be about a dozen people on the panel, a “mix between science people and prominent Americans.”

Asked when the panel would be convened, Kennedy said: “We didn’t talk about the details but [Trump] expressed urgency about it — that he wanted it done. We talked about a one-year commitment.”

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House who has been advising the president-elect on health matters, previously blasted Kennedy for his criticism of vaccine safety in his book, “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine.”

“Perhaps no anti-scientific argument is more dangerous today than the claim put forward by radical environmentalists, most notably Robert F. Kennedy Jr., that childhood vaccinations can cause autism,” Gingrich wrote in the 2010 book. “Numerous peer-reviewed studies have disproved this connection.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Gingrich backed away from his earlier criticism of Kennedy. As long as the panel is “appropriately organized” and has a realistic, scientific basis, he said, “I’m very comfortable with him taking the position.”

“I think if he is prepared to sit down with scientists, he may challenge them and they may change his mind,” Gingrich said, in which case “nobody would be more powerful” in changing the minds of anti-vaccination advocates.

Kennedy has repeatedly questioned the safety of vaccines and advanced arguments that there is a link between the immunizations and autism. He has suggested that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines, can be harmful to children, a notion that has been widely debunked.

Public health agencies did suggest manufacturers eliminate or reduce the amount of thimerosal in childhood vaccines and many have done so. But a number of studies have also discredited the idea that thimerosal is a cause of autism.

Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society, a patient advocacy group, said the long debate over autism should be at an end.

“There’s been a long discussion as to whether vaccines cause autism,” he said. “Everything suggests there is no link.”

“That he [Trump] meets with people doesn’t surprise me,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “That he would take this next step, which is to take a man who has no expertise about science or vaccines and make him the head of a vaccine safety … committee is truly amazing to me.”

Other physicians reacted with disbelief on Twitter.

Boston University School of Public Health Dean Dr. Sandro Galea called the appointment “Troubling.”

Kennedy’s work on autism has created controversy over the years. In 2005 he wrote an expose, co-published by Salon and Rolling Stone, contending that scientists were hiding the link between thimerosal and autism. Years later, Salon retracted the story, noting its basic thesis was inaccurate.

But Kennedy was not finished with the subject. He edited a 2014 book called “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: The Evidence Supporting the Immediate Removal of Mercury — a Known Neurotoxin — from Vaccines.” The volume makes the case that thimerosal is still causing autism and other neurological problems, and should be eliminated worldwide.

While Trump’s casual remarks on vaccines have alarmed public health advocates, they have energized the anti-vaccination movement. He met over the summer 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.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he wants “smaller doses over a longer period of time.” He has 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!”

Kennedy is the son of the former attorney general and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy.

This story has been updated to correct the date of the meeting between Trump and Kennedy and to include the statement from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks.

  • Americans want an open honest discussion about vaccines and their safety – anyone opposing this is either corrupt or an idiot. By the way, your information about Wakefield is incorrect – the Lancet has reinstated his study and validated it. If you don’t know that and are continuing to spread this lie, you’re not very well informed on the subject of vaccines.

    • “By the way, your information about Wakefield is incorrect – the Lancet has reinstated his study and validated it. ”

      This isn’t true. Wakefield’s study is still retracted as fraudulent, and Wakefield’s medical license is still revoked. Why would you even lie about this?

    • http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673697110960

      Still retracted. Always will be. The ethical failures of this paper, along with the manipulation of pathology reports and his failure to disclose his financial incentives is far more than enough to make sure it’s never taken seriously and keeps him from ever practicing medicine in any civilized nation.

      You should get your news from real sources, not anti-vax blogs.

  • You actually have a couple of good points here. Still, we need a real study looking at the unvaccinated vs vaccinated. And, you got me, I took all three of my children to get vaccinated even after I had a vaccine injury because I’m so anti-vaccine. No buddy, I’m just anti-corruption, censorship, and the resulting medical tyranny for some people. Again, why so angry? What’s going on? Have you thought about getting offline and going for a walk?

    • “Still, we need a real study looking at the unvaccinated vs vaccinated.”

      Unethical and/or worthless. The study I gave you was vaccinated vs. unvaccinated. It only indicated that the unvaccinated get more preventable diseases. That was the only conclusion that could be drawn.

      If you’re not anti-vax, then stop using their really bad and tired arguments.

      “Again, why so angry? ”

      Stop trying to poison the well. It’s a pathetic logical fallacy. Grow up.

    • “Unethical and/or worthless. Stop trying to poison the well.” Amazing coming from someone defending the medical industry who poisoned our children–me and my children. And, I can’t help it that the anti-vaccine movement is bringing up more logical points than anyone else at the moment. If anyone would start acting ethically (inside industry or inside our government), we wouldn’t have this problem.

    • “I can’t help it that the anti-vaccine movement is bringing up more logical points than anyone else at the moment.”

      Is this satire?

      Can you name a single logical and factually accurate point that anti-vaxxers are bringing up?

    • ” Amazing coming from someone defending the medical industry who poisoned our children–me and my children.”

      Again, your lack of evidence for any “poisoning” from vaccines is obvious in all of your comments. You have no diagnosis, other than the one you made as Dr. Google.

  • Re: “but I have the order from the pediatrician. Most likely you don’t.”
    It’s called in actually. Did you forget to take your prozac? Why so angry? Wait for it, the angry jab back…ah, I’m bored. But, thanks, you are right, I need to go down there and demand the test or something in writing explaining why he won’t give it or go to the medical board. Oh, wait, have been down that track. Doctors are allowed to do that in our corrupt, censored, controlled society. People are angry for a reason–what isn’t clear is your level of anger.

    Re: Do you remotely understand correlation isn’t the same as causation?
    Yes, more than you know. And, to get technical, the doctors said the trigger–not necessarily the “cause” of my chronic reactive arthritis was from Lymerix. That’s important to understand medically, but not in lamen conversations on the internet. The answer is that there is no definite answer without looking at an unvaccinated population and comparing, but that’s exactly what’s not allowed. Oh wait, we did it with the Amish, but the are fairly isolated. Can’t look at the people in the general population who aren’t getting vaccinated or you may find something that you don’t like.

    Do you remotely understand this quote ““It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    • “Oh wait, we did it with the Amish, but the are fairly isolated.”

      Sorry, the Amish are vaccinated and have high rates of other disorders due to their ways and inbreeding. Just because they don’t get diagnosed with autism as similar rates doesn’t mean much, as they don’t actually take their children for any professional diagnoses.

      I love your shill gambit, it’s really cute, in that standard anti-vax sort of childish way.

      Also calling me “angry” is pretty much standard fare for your kind. It’s a way for you to poison the well against me.

      Again, pathetic.

      “Can’t look at the people in the general population who aren’t getting vaccinated or you may find something that you don’t like.”

      And once again, showing your lack of an education in research. Self-selected populations are inherently biased, making such a study worthless. It has been done, however, and your kind didn’t like the results.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057555/

  • This article is a downright propaganda piece with sweeping statements like “the science is settled”. It is not, it never was, and there is more than ample evidence against the poor immunization procedure that vaccines constitute… Time to do real science and stop the money-machine. Immunization can be done better than now with millions and millions of side-effects….
    And this media is clearly in the Big-Pharma pockets…

    • “Immunization can be done better than now with millions and millions of side-effects…. ”

      Actually the best science indicates that vaccines are FAR safer than the diseases they prevent, AND that there are relatively few side effects to vaccinations.

      So why do you exaggerate? Is it because you read some anti-vax blogs?

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