President-elect Donald Trump asked Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and skeptic of vaccines, to chair a presidential commission on vaccine safety, Kennedy said Tuesday.
The two have questioned whether vaccines cause autism, a claim consistently debunked by medical professionals across the board.
The commission will be designed "to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects," Kennedy told reporters after the meeting with Trump.
Kennedy said Trump requested the meeting, and the president-elect "has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it. His opinion doesn't matter, but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science."
Kennedy said Trump is "very pro-vaccine, as am I," but wants to make sure "they're as safe as they possibly can be."
In March 2014 — before he became a presidential candidate — Trump said on Twitter: "Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!"
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
Trump also raised the vaccine theory during a Republican presidential debate in September 2015: "Just the other day, two years old, 2½ years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
Kennedy, the son of former 1960s-era attorney general, U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, has promoted a documentary film linking autism to the vaccine preservative thimerosal and criticizing public health officials who dispute that claim.
“They can put anything they want in that vaccine and they have no accountability for it,” Kennedy said during a 2015 appearance in Sacramento.
Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said that the president-elect and Kennedy discussed "issues pertaining to vaccines and immunizations."
Health care professionals expressed alarm at the prospect of a Kennedy-Trump vaccine commission. They said refuals to take vaccines could put entire communities at risk.
"Creating a commission makes it look like scientists have not already studied this issue for many years, and it may lead people to think this is still an open question — it is not," said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation.
She added: "Withholding vaccines will do nothing to reduce the chance that a child is diagnosed with autism, but will absolutely increase the chance that a child could contract and die from a vaccine-preventable disease. Vaccines save lives, period.”