President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly linked vaccines with autism. It’s incorrect, alarming and dangerous. To address his misconceptions and ensure the health of children worldwide, he should attend our Vaccines and Synthetic Biology Meeting.
When deciding the ‘Vaccines and Synthetic Biology’ theme of our January 2017 meeting at the start of 2016, keen gamblers might have wagered that ‘synthetic biology’ would prove a contentious topic. Synthetic biology could be harnessed by terrorists, provokes uproar in some religious groups and raises a number of patenting issues. However, it seems the world is distracted by other potential threats to sanity and safety.
While the British science community continues to grimace and ponder an uncertain future due to Brexit concerns, America prepares for an equally erratic outlook. On January 20, five days before our Vaccines and Synthetic Biology Meeting, Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office and be sworn in as America’s 45th president.
Vaccines and autism
Claiming that climate change is a hoax and lightbulbs cause cancer are just a few of Trump’s assertions that have thrown evidence to the wind. Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington referred to Trump as “the first anti-science president we have ever had.”
The President-Elect has repeatedly linked vaccines with autism and many of his supporters share this view. He recently appointed Robert Kennedy Jr, a prominent vaccine conspiracy theorist, to chair a commission on “vaccination safety and scientific integrity”.
Simon Wain-Hobson of Institut Pasteur is speaking at our Vaccines and Synthetic Biology meeting and is concerned by Trump’s stance:
“My wife is a pediatrician. She says vaccination is an everyday battle. It is madness. It comes from not understanding scientific method. Science isn’t democratic. If I can disprove your theory I will. And your theory will be dead. Your opinion matters little if what you say can be disproved. Having a right to an opinion is a polite nicety necessary in society. But not in science and medicine”.
Foxing the nation
“I’ve seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy,” Trump told Fox News in 2012.
“It happened to somebody that worked for me recently. I mean, they had this beautiful child, not a problem in the world. And all of a sudden, they go in, they get this monster shot. You ever see the size of it? It’s like they’re pumping in — you know, it’s terrible, the amount. And they pump this into this little body. And then all of the sudden, the child is different a month later. And I strongly believe that’s it.”
Gift of the jab
Beautiful child. Monster shot. Little body. One would struggle to find more emotive language, but that’s catchy music to the ears of both caring parents and conspiracy theorists alike. Drama appears to have more sway than fact, but cannot change the actuality that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
Dr. Kirsty Mehring Le-Doare will be speaking on Maternal Immunisation at our Vaccines and Synthetic Biology meeting on January 25. She had a succinct response to Trump’s stance:
“Vaccination is a proven key intervention to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases globally. Only clean water performs better.”
The Price at what cost?
Trump’s nominee as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is Tom Price. He belongs to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) that has advocated a vaccines and autism link.
In response to this appointment, Le Doare added, “It is most unfortunate that those in positions of power and public influence such as Tom Price and Donald Trump are working against the largest body of scientific evidence ever presented for preventing deadly diseases.”
It’s safe to assume that President Trump will be busy on January 25 and unable to attend our Vaccines and Synthetic Biology meeting. Despite his apparent lack of respect for evidence, we’d like to extend a friendly invite to Mr. Trump. In the interests of the planet and the health of its citizens, the future ‘leader of the free world’ would be better served in the company of scientists and researchers, than Kanye West and Nigel Farage.
Simon Wain-Hobson offers a window of hope and a suggestion:
“Is there anything we can do? YES. Plead for reason and analysis. More explanation of science is necessary. Everybody is gobbling up science by way of their iphones, ipads, tweets. Science makes things that work. Period”
Last summer, Trump met with anti-vaccine activists, including the discredited Andrew Wakefield. SfAM might not be able to offer the dubious glamour of a reviled doctor, but we can propose a unique day out for Donald and Melania. We’ve curated a thrilling programme at the Royal Society, packed with superb and varied speakers.
Donald wouldn’t be the only president in the room as SfAM’s Christine Dodd will be present, introducing the Denver Russell Memorial lecture, but he can rest assured that he’d be the biggest earner in the room- and for the President Elect, that seems far more important than a wealth of knowledge.
Stewart Cumiskey (Press and Media Officer)
The SfAM Vaccines and Synthetic Biology Meeting is on January 25 at the Royal Society