One concerning thing about Donald Trump that rarely draws much attention is his repeated flirtation with the dangerous, unscientific anti-vaccination movement. That trend continued on Thursday, when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that vaccines shouldn't be mandatory. Rather, Price said, states should be allowed to decide on their own whether or not to require parents to vaccinate their children.
During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Price explained himself — or at least tried.
Let's get this out of the way first: Vaccinations are a good thing, and the anti-vax movement is both scientifically unfounded and a threat to public health. The genesis of the anti-vax movement was a single 1988 article in Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, which claimed that vaccines were linked to autism. But Wakefield's study has been thoroughly debunked: Lancet retracted it in 2010, explaining that its findings were "utterly false," and the British government eventually revoked Wakefield's medical license, concluding that he'd acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in conducting the Lancet study.
HHS Secretary Tom Price says it should be up to states to regulate whether immunizations are required https://t.co/soyH0YpO5E— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 16, 2017
Nevertheless, many have convinced themselves that vaccinations are harmful, and there's strong evidence to suggest that the movement has caused a serious step backward in the way of public health: Mumps, measles, and whooping cough have all experienced a resurgence in recent years, just as the anti-vax movement began to gain mainstream prominence.
Unfortunately, the president of the United States is a vaccine skeptic. I say "vaccine skeptic" instead of "anti-vax" because Trump's position on vaccinations, like his positions on so many other things, is difficult to pin down and has shifted over the years.
Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2012
With autism being way up, what do we have to lose by having doctors give small dose vaccines vs. big pump doses into those tiny bodies?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
So many people don’t understand I am a big proponent of vaccines for children—just not in one massive dose—spread them out over time.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2014
Trump has been talking about vaccines and autism for almost a decade, and his general position seems to be that, while vaccines are OK in small doses, they might cause autism if children receive high doses all at once. (He is wrong about this.) Also of note is that during the presidential campaign, Trump reportedly met with several anti-vaccination advocates at a fundraiser — including Wakefield.
Trump hasn't yet made any big moves on vaccine policy. But Price's comments don't inspire confidence, and Trump's troubled history with vaccinations makes it difficult to interpret Price's argument with a grain of salt. Let's hope the administration's policymakers aren't nearly as sympathetic to anti-vaxxers as Trump himself seems to be.