It is clear that the anti-vaccine movement is born out of concern for children and their well-being, and I sympathize with the fear and uncertainty of parents. I do not, however, sympathize with President Trump’s decision to meet with the out-spoken vaccine critic Mr. Robert. F. Kennedy Jr., or his reported decision to have Mr. Kennedy chair a commission investigating the safety and efficacy of vaccines. It is not merely clumsy — children will ultimately suffer for it.
To ensure that children are vaccinated on a proper schedule is already a challenge in and of itself. As vaccination becomes more challenging, more children will ultimately go unvaccinated. Since vaccination prevents disease, having more unvaccinated children means more children will get sick. Unfortunately, the illnesses that are prevented by vaccines such as the MMR vaccine — measles, mumps, and rubella — are no small problem. Measles is a terrible sickness that can lead to deafness, blindness, inflammation of the brain, or even death. Mumps, similarly, can cause permanent deafness, inflammation of the covering of the brain, and death. These diseases and their consequences are easy to overlook and underestimate because they have been so far removed from our recent lives. This, of course, is a direct result of vaccines, and what is at stake in the fight for vaccination.
Giving the anti-vaccine position any credence at all makes vaccinating children more challenging than it already is. This leads to fewer vaccinated children, more sick children, and more preventable complications and death in children. In meeting with Mr. Kennedy, President Trump has continued a string of actions supporting the anti-vaccine conspiracy and casting doubt on the safety of vaccines. These are inexcusable in and of themselves. As president, however, it is safe to say that his actions carry significantly more weight now than they did before — and the damage done is twofold.
First, the meeting between a prolific vaccine critic and the president by itself comes across as a legitimization of the anti-vaccine position. Such validation further complicates this life-saving practice. Even without taking any official action, the president carelessness puts lives at risk.
Second, the act of forming a commission on vaccine safety headed by an anti-vaccine advocate as the president of the United States of America — as is currently being reported by many sources — would perhaps be the greatest endorsement this dangerous conspiracy has ever had. Such support from the highest office in the land would undoubtedly exacerbate ongoing vaccination efforts, again leading to the illness and death of children the movement is purportedly trying to protect.
At the end of the day, President Trump’s decisions carry much more weight and consequence than did those of businessman Trump. Regardless of the findings or even the formation of the commission on vaccine safety, the president’s actions with respect to vaccine safety and efficacy are already going to cause problems for children across the country. Not today or tomorrow, but it will.
Hayden T. Pacl is a medical student.
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