Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental lawyer and a vaccine critic. In a recent Q&A with Science magazine, he said there is “an explosion in neurodevelopmental disorders and we ought to be able to do a cost-benefit analysis and see what’s causing them.”
“Explosion in neurodevelopment disorders” is meant to suggest that vaccinations cause autism. The fact is that vaccines do not cause autism. The erroneous claim of a link between vaccines and autism is based on a discredited study led by the British doctor Andrew Wakefield and published in the Lancet in 1998. The British Medical Journal termed Wakefield’s paper “an elaborate fraud” in a 2011 review of Wakefield’s original analysis, and he subsequently lost his license to practice medicine.
Yet, the fraud lives on and poses a danger to public health. This danger reasserted itself last week when Kennedy announced he will lead a vaccine safety and scientific integrity commission, at the behest of then President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump has also voiced concerns regarding the link between vaccines and autism. On March 28, 2014, he 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!”
This statement propagates the false link between vaccines and autism. Doing so is a disservice to children and their families, and places whole communities at risk. Trump and Kennedy have failed to account for the ways in which the benefits of vaccinations spread to others. When parents opt to vaccinate their child against an otherwise preventable childhood disease they have helped their child and their child’s friends. Other children are less likely to acquire the infectious disease if their friends and relatives don’t have the disease in the first place. Once enough of us have been vaccinated then all of us benefit from this “herd” immunity.
Vaccine research and autism research are both laudatory and necessary. Both should be supported, albeit independently of one another. Politicians and activists concerned with the health of children and communities should continue to support life-saving vaccines rather than spreading false claims that further Wakefield’s fraudulent legacy.
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