FDA chief Gottlieb backs vaccines—again—to draw firm line against antivaccine activists

gottlieb
Scott Gottlieb said he had never met with antivaccine activists to discuss a "vaccine commission."

Make no mistake: FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb does not want to be associated with the anti-vaxxer movement.

He resorted to Twitter on Monday to take a clear stand after press reports revisited President Donald Trump's plans for a vaccine safety commission, which vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. supported early on in the Trump administration.

Top FDA officials had met with Kennedy, just not Gottlieb himself. Lyndsay Meyer, an FDA spokeswoman, confirmed to FiercePharma that Kennedy, through his World Mercury Project, had met with Peter Marks, head of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and other FDA staff on March 30.

The FDA’s CBER had received a request from the World Mercury Project to discuss vaccine safety, specifically the use of thimerosal—a mercury-based preservative used for decades in the U.S. in multidose vials—according to a statement by the agency.

But the FDA said that meeting did not constitute an endorsement of Kennedy's antithimerosal stand.

“There is a robust body of peer-reviewed, scientific studies conducted in the United States and countries around the world that support the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines," the agency said in a statement. "The scientific evidence collected over the past 15 years does not show any evidence of harm, including serious neurodevelopmental disorders, from use of thimerosal in vaccines."

Gottlieb seems eager to rid himself of the slightest indication of contact with antivaccine activists. “The issue is one of critical concern to me, and I don’t want to leave any misimpression about MY views on the matter,” wrote Gottlieb in a tweet after STAT reporter Helen Branswell explained that she did speak to the FDA about the meeting before writing up the story.

Gottlieb later praised STAT for its quick response in correcting the story, and backed Branswell personally, too.

Gottlieb has been a clear proponent of vaccines. He told CNBC back in 2015 that the vaccines-autism theory has been “thoroughly debunked.” In fact, he just recently tweeted to advocate for vaccines. Last Saturday, he linked to a CDC post about vaccine effectiveness against 14 diseases. Last Friday, he tweeted a Science piece that explained visually why vaccines do more good than harm.

Kennedy, on the contrary, is a known vaccine skeptic who has persistently clung onto the already-debunked theory of a link between vaccines and autism. He had talked up an invitation from Trump to head up a White House commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.”

The president’s stand on such a committee outside of the FDA and CDC remains unclear. After Kennedy talked to the press early January, Hope Hicks, the recently appointed interim White House communications director and then a spokeswoman with the transition team, clarified that though the then-president-elect was exploring the possibility of forming such a commission, no decision had been made.

But in February, Kennedy said after a meeting with Trump that the president is still very much up for the idea, despite an “uproar” from pharma and scientists.

Trump himself has entertained the idea on Twitter, alleging that young children are getting too many vaccines, and that they lead to autism. But his administration has since chosen and approved vaccine advocates Gottlieb and Brenda Fitzgerald to head up the FDA and CDC, respectively.