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Appointing RFK Jr. to vaccine safety commission would be unethical & dangerous

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

No, Trump: An anti-vaxxer should not lead the commission on vaccine safety

President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for his incoming advisors and cabinet members have become so predictably absurd that it’s hardly surprising that he is considering appointing vocal anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a commission on the safety of vaccines.

Let that sink in for a moment, because it's a horrifying potential public health disaster. The last thing people opposed to vaccinations need right now is an ally in the White House, giving them any reason whatsoever to decide to skip vaccinating their kids, putting not only their own children, but other people's children at risk for dangerous but entirely preventable diseases.

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, told the New York Times that the president-elect was “exploring the possibility of forming a committee on autism, which affects so many families,” then added that no final decisions had been made.

This isn’t just a serious public health concern — it’s also normalizing and legitimizing the position of a person who blatantly ignores and questions valid scientific findings. We know, conclusively, that vaccines do not cause autism. This is not up for debate, let alone ripe for a presidential commission on the subject. The mere fact that this commission exists — let alone the fact that renowned anti-vaxxer RFK Jr. was appointed to head it — validates this irresponsible stance. Here, I'll save us all time and taxpayer dollars: Vaccines are safe and necessary. No commission needed.

More: How to change skeptical parents' minds about vaccines

Not only is elevating this incorrect position damaging from a misinformation and public health standpoint, it also further stigmatizes autism because some parents would opt out of vaccinating their children against preventable but fatal diseases rather than put them at risk for autism (based on false science).

Dr. Elizabeth Picciuto, a philosophy lecturer and journalist whose work focuses on bioethics and disability, is also the mother of a child with autism. She has written about how this ongoing conversation surrounding the safety of vaccines stigmatizes autism by presenting it as a fate worse than contracting potentially life-threatening diseases like measles, mumps, polio and diphtheria.

More: Dangerous anti-vaccine comments spin out of control at second GOP debate

"Let's say the autism-vaccine link were true (which of course it isn't),” she told SheKnows. “It's shocking and dismaying that parents would rather risk the death of their child than risk having a child like mine. It's a reflection of the terror of autism specifically and of disability more generally in our society."

Quaint Victorian baby names might be popular at the moment, but trust me, you don’t want your child catching a quaint Victorian disease that had largely been eradicated by vaccinations. We have so many public health concerns to be worried about, with new ones like the Zika virus popping up regularly. There is absolutely no reason why we should have to deal with diseases that have largely been wiped out and stigmatize those living with autism and other disabilities in the process.

More: Study: Vaccines not linked to autism

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