I’ve written quite a bit about how our soon-to-be President Donald Trump has consistently expressed antivaccine views over the years, such as his oft-stated (on Twitter and elsewhere) beliefs that it’s a “monster” shot that causes autism and infants get “too many” vaccines “too soon.” I’ve heard Trump supporters who are pro-vaccine pooh-pooh these statements and claim that Trump won’t be doing anything about vaccine policy because it’s not a priority, an observation I counter by pointing out that Trump met with two of the biggest antivaccine “icons” there are: Andrew Wakefield and, just last week, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. RFK Jr. even claimed that Trump asked him to chair a vaccine safety commission, although the Trump team later said that no decision had been made and that the commission would be about autism. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find that reassuring, given that RFK Jr. has no qualifications to chair an autism commission other than his antivaccine views.
Not surprisingly, antivaccine ideologues are ecstatic, with the cranks at Age of Autism practically beside themselves with glee and our old friend Lawrence Solomon (whom we’ve met before) celebrating the meeting with RFK Jr.:
In the September debate and on numerous earlier occasions, Trump has referred to his personal experiences with those he’s known. “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,” he 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 (sized) 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.”
Others very important to Trump — his voters — also help explain Trump’s enthusiasm for a commission into vaccine safety. According to an Economist/YouGov poll taken in December, 31 per cent of Trump voters believe that vaccines can cause autism and only 21 per cent reject that view outright. Other voters doubtless worried about vaccines for reasons other than autism. Many of those vaccine-issue voters would have been highly motivated, since the health of their children was at stake.
Trump believes his presidency places him at the head of an historic movement, “a beautiful movement. We are going to make America safe and great again.” Making America safe doesn’t just involve building a wall to keep out criminals and terrorists, he believes. To Trump, it also includes making sure that there’s safety in America’s vaccines.
I noted how, shortly after the election, antivaccinationists were practically salivating at the prospect of what Donald Trump might do with respect to federal vaccine policy. I now note that they are now doing their best to get their message to what they see as a sympathetic President-Elect. I first learned of this the other day while seeing responses to the not-so-Thinking Moms’ Revolution (TMR) on Twitter. (TMR, of course, has blocked me.) For example:
— thinkingmoms (@thinkingmomsrev) January 12, 2017
And a reminder just yesterday:
— thinkingmoms (@thinkingmomsrev) January 16, 2017
And who is behind this effort? Whom do you think? That’s right, it’s the team behind the antivaccine propaganda film VAXXED, which was produced by Del Bigtree and directed by—who else?—Andrew Wakefield:
There’s a link to the VAXXED story submission form, which looks like this:
The video is basically Polly Tommey telling VAXXED viewers and believers that vaccines cause autism exactly how to tell Donald Trump their child’s story, using her own child’s anecdote as a basis, stating that her son was “injured by the MMR vaccine at 13 months” and how she “trusted that vaccines are safe.” She’s also asking for stories from around the world. Basically she tells the audience to tell about their “beautiful child” before vaccines and what vaccines did to him or her. In other words, she’s trying to make the stories as similar as possible, and, make no mistake, many of these stories do sound a lot a like because, at their source, they involve confusing correlation with causation and using the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. I also note that this video is form yesterday, and Tommey is claiming that “something” will happen with these stories in 48 hours. She also says that there are other organizations working together to gather these stories and send them to President-Elect Trump. As Polly Tommey puts it at one point, “I want to hear about babies who died” and everything.
One odd thing I noted about this whole thing is how coy, how seemingly mysterious about what, exactly, is going to be done with these letters. AT some points, they
So basically, antivaccine activists, led by Polly Tommey, who also co-produced VAXXED, are collecting stories of “vaccine injury.” One could say that the movie VAXXED consists, to a large degree, of stories of “vaccine-induced” autism, and the VAXXED team has been busy collecting such stories and posting videos to its website, grouped by state. For instance, here is Michigan, which as of last night included six videos. Not surprisingly, California has many more. So far, the VAXXED team claims it’s received over 650 e-mails from people who have submitted their stories.
This could be a very effective technique with this particular President for the simple reason that he does not understand science, shows little interest in science, and clearly values anecdotes over data. He is very easily influenced by flattery. He has a long and sordid history of antivaccine views. He’s been very consistent in this, dating back to at least 2007. He became antivaccine because of stories told to him by parents just like this, according to RFK Jr. In 2007, he was tight with the founders of Autism Speaks, Bob and Suzanne Wright, even fundraising for it. The Wrights started out believing that vaccines cause autism, leading to a schism with their daughter Katie when they later came to the conclusion that vaccines didn’t cause autism later. The problem was never quite resolved, and there has been tension between vaccine-autism believers and those who support science in Autism Speaks ever since, sometimes leading Autism Speaks to appear to be wanting to have it both ways with respect to vaccines.
Given the coyness of the appeal, it’s not clear to me what Tommey and company are planning to do with all these stories, other than send them to President-Elect Trump. If that’s all they were planning on doing, why all the mystery? I rather suspect we’re about to see some sort of publicity stunt. Advocates of science need to be on guard this week and throughout the next four years. I get the feeling that stunts like this and antivaccine activities like the meeting with RFK Jr. will be a regular occurrence.