BY HALEY LUCIAN ’17
On March 27, 2014, now President Donald Trump took to Twitter to relay his perspective on vaccines.
“If I were President I would push for proper vaccinations but would not allow one time massive shots that a small child cannot take — AUTISM.”
One day later his follow up tweet mentioned “many such cases” of vaccines linked to autism.
“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes — AUTISM. Many such cases!”
In reaction to these tweets, Shannon Seigal ’19 said, “To say you’d rather your kid get a preventable disease than exist as an autistic person is completely awful.”
Despite a lack of evidence connecting vaccination to autism to support President Trump’s claims, there is still significant concern among more than 350 “leading U.S. medical, advocacy and professional organizations,” according to the Washington Post, many of whom have sent letters to President Trump in support of vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on their website that “there is no link between vaccines and autism” and more specifically that “vaccine ingredients do not cause autism.” “[Trump’s] statements that link vaccines to autism have no scientific basis,” said Shanza Nooen ’18. “He doesn’t know science...I mean, look what he says about climate change!”
This flood of correspondence was prompted by the President’s meeting last month with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who also believes there to be a link between autism and vaccination. A spokesperson for President Trump told the Washington Post that “[the President] was considering creation of a commission on autism” and that Kennedy would chair this commission.
President Trump’s new director of health and human services has a different view towards vaccination than that of Kennedy. Dr. Thomas Price, confirmed by the Senate as Director of HHS on Feb. 10, was asked in confirmation hearings whether he believes vaccines cause autism. Price responded, “I think the science in that instance is that it does not.”
One vaccine in particular might still encounter a difficult path to approval or distribution, if it reaches the clinical trial stage. On Feb. 2, 2017, the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine announced the results of a Zika vaccine candidate. This vaccine has proven, so far, effective against the virus in both mice and monkeys after a single dose. While traditional vaccines use a weakened or inactivated form of the virus, this vaccine against the Zika virus uses a unique approach. The candidate Zika vaccine utilizes purified RNA molecules, modified to be ignored by the patient’s own immune system so they can enter cells and cause production of viral proteins, which promote an antibody response. In this way, the molecules act like live virus vaccines but lack the serious issues sometimes associated with these types of vaccines “including harmful infection with the virus in people who have weakened immune systems,” according to UPenn’s School of Medicine. Senior author of the study Dr. Drew Weissman stated that clinical trials could begin within the year.
It is unknown if the President continues to hold anti vaccine views and the Trump administration has not offered any outright clarification of his views since the tweets and since the announcement of preliminary Zika vaccine success. Furthermore, as America becomes increasingly isolationist, even if President Trump’s views on vaccines have changed, distributing a vaccine against the Zika virus to the people who need it most in the world may prove difficult.