Asking Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to lead a panel on the safety and scientific integrity of vaccines is akin to naming climate change deniers Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Ryan Zinke to top the Interior Department and Rick Perry to command the Department of Energy.
The pattern is clear. President-elect Donald Trump wants disrupters in control of agencies and commissions that he doesn't value. That's the new president's prerogative, but he risks inflicting serious harm with wholesale changes to agencies whose missions are based on solid, well-identified public needs.
Imagine the death and suffering that would rain down across America without vaccines to fight polio, smallpox or the measles. Parents require assurance that their children will not be exposed to dangerous diseases at school because others have been misled by myths perpetuated by the incoming administration about unfounded dangers of vaccines.
Trump fanned fears about vaccines during his campaign and perpetuated a widely discredited myth that they cause autism. Kennedy has been writing and speaking for more than a decade about supposed links between vaccines and autism. He has also toured the nation testifying against state vaccine mandates.
The theory has been widely discredited by reputable scientific studies. Health professionals have been alarmed by the growth of the anti-vaccination movement, saying public health will suffer if the effort is not halted.
Kennedy, an environmental attorney, says he and Trump are pro-vaccine but that they want to make sure vaccines are safe. They are not scientists and lack the skills to independently verify the safety of vaccines. They must rely on qualified scientists to make that judgment. Yet it's exactly those scientists' judgment that Trump and Kennedy are calling into question.
Kennedy has spearheaded efforts to roll back child vaccination laws. He ignores studies from respected scientific organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that say vaccines are safe and a national vaccine program is needed.
Confusion is nothing new to the incoming administration. While Kennedy told the media Tuesday after meeting with Trump that he planned to chair the commission, a Trump spokesperson said later that "no decisions have been made at this time."
Trump seems intent on sowing doubt wherever possible, as if to deliberately undermine public confidence in a federal government that, for all its flaws, serves taxpayers across a broad spectrum of public needs and requirements. Trump wants to put people in control of some agencies and commissions who don't believe in the mission they'll oversee, or who seek to eliminate those very agencies.
Citizens shouldn't rely on political opinions to guide health care choices. The simmering controversy over vaccinations is as counterproductive as debating climate change. Vaccines save lives. Study the science and turn down the political noise.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH