Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an outspoken vaccine skeptic, and on Tuesday he said President-elect Donald Trump tapped him to head up “a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity.”
While exiting Trump Tower, Kennedy, who has written articles and a book that peddled the autism-vaccine conspiracy, and has lobbied for vaccine-exemption provisions, gave reporters a few clues on what this commission will entail. “President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it,” he said.
“His opinion doesn’t matter,” he added, “but the science does matter, and we ought to be reading the science, and we ought to be debating the science. 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.”
Late on Tuesday, the Trump transition team walked back Kennedy’s claim.
“The president-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas,” said spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “The president-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time.
The anti-vaxxers are a fringe movement, but a vocal one. The junk science has managed to attract the conspiracy-minded on both the left and the right (Kennedy Jr. is a Democrat) — but it’s no small thing that these totally baseless theories might have some traction with the future White House, as it could have serious implications for the nation’s public health. Yoel Inbar, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who studies anti-vaccination beliefs, called Kennedy Jr’s appointment, if true, terrible. “Even if the commission doesn’t find anything (they won’t),” he wrote in an email to Science of Us, “people will likely hear about it and infer that something must have been up in order for the government to investigate.”
In other words, the Trump administration may be dealing another blow to scientific facts.
This post has been updated.