President-elect Donald Trump just appointed Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccination campaigner, to lead a commission investigating the safety of vaccines, despite medical consensus that vaccines are safe and essential for public health.
Kennedy told reporters he’s agreed, at Trump’s request, to head up a “commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity,” CBS News reports.
The son of assassinated Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Kennedy Jr. is an attorney who has built a reputation as an environmentalist before getting involved in the anti-vaccination movement.
His appointment isn’t exactly a surprising move: Trump has expressed his skepticism of vaccines several times, most recently during a debate for Republican presidential hopefuls in September 2015.
“You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump…” he said during the debate. “We had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”
He also tweeted this in 2014:
Robert Kennedy Jr. told an audience in Sacramento, CA, last year that he thinks “[Pharmaceutical companies] can put anything they want in that vaccine and they have no accountability for it.” He went on to allude to a link between vaccines and autism and to compare vaccinations to the Holocaust–a comment he later apologized for.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it. 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 told reporters after the meeting
The vast majority of doctors and scientists agree that vaccinations are not harmful, but essential for the health of the entire population, and that as many children as possible should be vaccinated against diseases like Polio, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.
The link between autism and vaccinations emerged from a study by British scientist Andrew Wakefield, which was later discredited and retracted from the journal it was published in.
A measles outbreak in California in 2015, in which at least 159 people were affected, re-ignited the conversation around vaccinations. That state passed a law in the aftermath of that outbreak to get rid of exemptions based on parents’ philosophical disagreement with vaccination.
California, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the only states that don’t provide exemptions for philosophical or religious reasons. Another 17 states provide exemptions for religious and medical reasons, and the rest of the nation allows exemptions for medical, religious, and philosophical reasons.