Having witnessed antivaccine sentiments swell in Texas, Sabin Vaccine Institute President Peter Hotez worries the feelings will intensify around the country. However, even as reports hit that President Donald Trump has met with antivaccine activists, Hotez is “apprehensive” but not ready to sound an alarm on the new administration just yet.
“I think there is a lot more unknown than we know right now,” Hotez said of Trump’s plans on vaccines. “Rather than come out of the gate with both guns firing right away, I’m sitting back a bit to see what has been proposed.”
Earlier this month, then President-elect Trump reportedly met with vax skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr., and the political scion told reporters afterward he was asked to head a commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” The Trump team disputed that claim, saying “no decisions have been made at this time.”
Speaking with FiercePharma, Hotez said he and others are concerned, but that there’s little “tangible” information from which to assess the president’s plans to act on vaccines. Instead, he said, the next several weeks should be pivotal as he’ll closely follow the nomination of a CDC director, a science advisor and other personnel in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“Once we see the people that are in place in key positions, we’ll be in a much better position to understand where we stand,” Hotez said.
Hotez, who is the father of an adult daughter with autism, said he has seen the antivaccine movement take hold in Texas, explaining that it’s “better organized and better oiled” than in the past. A political action committee in the state is raising money to support candidates who run on an antivaccine platform, and a leader in the movement, Andrew Wakefield, has moved to Austin.
“I’m quite worried that the trends we are seeing in Texas would be reproduced nationally,” Hotez said. He’s predicted Texas will soon see measles epidemics and considers that viral infection a “canary in the coal mine.”
Wakefield is the prominent senior author of a now-retracted 1998 Lancet study that drew links between the MMR vaccine and autism. He’s an antivaccine activist and was banned from practicing medicine in the U.K. BMJ editors said the study was based on falsified data.
Trump, who has no scientific or medical credentials, has stated for years his belief that the current vaccine schedule subjects children to too much at once.
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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2014
To combat vaccine misinformation, Hotez on Friday published a roundup of recent research refuting claims of a link to autism. He also adds that there’s “no plausibility to such a link” because multiple studies have shown autism is associated with changes in the "neocortex of the brain in early pregnancy well before a child receives vaccines."