Before assuming office last year, then-President-elect Donald Trump took a controversial meeting with vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to discuss a commission to investigate vaccine safety, Kennedy told reporters at the time.
An immediate uproar ensued, but after a month of pushback, the political scion said the plans were still on.
Now, more than a year later, Kennedy told The Guardian he hasn't heard from the White House in six months. He said there's been "zero progress" and that the administration has cut off communications.
Kennedy and others have pushed for the administration to investigate the disproven theory that vaccines can cause autism. The community who supported Trump because of his tone on vaccines—the president has questioned their safety numerous times—feels betrayed, Kennedy told the newspaper. Founder of World Mercury Project, Kennedy said he believes the president has caved to industry pressure.
Meanwhi, experts are relieved. Last year, several experts said the mere existence of such a commission would stir up more distrust in vaccines at a time when vaccine hesitancy was leading to measles outbreaks around the country.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said on Tuesday he "didn't see how it filled a need."
"I think we have enormous checks and balances in place through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System [and an] incredibly robust system through CDC and ACIP for ensuring vaccine safety that has a track record of catching problems."
The father of a daughter with autism, Dr. Hotez said vaccines are "incredibly safe, incredibly effective and incredibly powerful public health tools" and that it's "discouraging" to see groups keep bringing up the theory that they can cause the developmental disorder. He actually volunteered to serve as a scientific voice on the proposed commission a year ago, he said.
Despite Trump's public statements questioning vaccine safety, in office he has appointed pro-vaccine leadership to top healthcare posts. Since taking the original Kennedy meeting, Trump has named an FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, who called the theory of a link to autism "thoroughly debunked."
The administration also appointed Brenda Fitzgerald as CDC director. Even though she recently resigned due to tobacco stock purchases in office, she has unequivocally supported immunizations.