President-elect Trump's supposed appointment of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a "vaccine safety" commission is alarming on many different levels for myriad reasons. (For the record, the Trump transition has not confirmed the formation of this committee but the interview RFK Jr did with Science post-meeting is pretty suggestive).
RFK, Jr. is known, not for the Kennedy mystique, but as someone who unrelentingly spreads anti-vaccine mythology. He is most associated with his vociferous opposition to thimerosal, the innocuous mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines. Because of his last name, he is given an outsized platform to promote his irrational views, notably Rolling Stone and The Daily Show. Now that platform has metastasized and risks derailing the precarious progress the human race has made in the fight against infectious disease.
A vaccine "safety commission" led by someone whose primary involvement in vaccines does not involve the actual study of vaccines, the administration of vaccines, or the development of vaccine is puzzling on its face. When that person's primary role with vaccines is to foment doubt on the biotechnological marvel of vaccination is even too far-fetched a scenario to call Orwellian, it is the height of absurdity. Yet, that is what we have devolved to.
But what could be the deeper purpose of this action? What does it accomplish? The president has no direct control over which vaccines groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend or which vaccines schools require as a condition of enrollment. Thus, this commission is a farce with no real jurisdiction. So the only purpose, in my estimation, of this ludicrous action is to reward and pander to the anti-vaccine movement by giving them a quasi-official standing and the explicit acknowledgment that they have a "friend" in The White House who gave one of their most prominent spokespersons an official sanction.
Such a "commission", with the support of the President, can, however, wreak havoc. For example, I anticipate RFK Jr. will interfere with state or local vaccine campaigns (as he has done before), will spread disinformation and propaganda (as he has done before), and will amplify all sorts of anti-scientific arbitrary blathering against vaccines (as he has done before).
The value of vaccines are self-evident given the immeasurable successes they have achieved. Vaccines have transformed childhood from a period in which friends succumbed to infections into one of idyllic joy with their protection against 16 (!!) childhood infections. Vaccines have rid the planet of smallpox under DA Henderson's able hand. Vaccines have relegated polio to just two countries. Vaccines against HPV and hepatitis B have and will seriously diminish the incidence of various cancers (cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, head/neck, and liver).
The doctors President Obama mentioned in his farewell address that stop "pandemics in their tracks" have achieved these pathbreaking feats almost exclusively through vaccines. Right now scientists are working on a slew of vaccines that will stop future pandemics as well as halt the spread of endemic infectious diseases in their tracks and allow civilization to progress. While the President-elect and RFK Jr. may say they are "pro-vaccine" their habitual sowing of doubts about vaccine safety and questioning the number of recommended vaccines belies their true positions.
The level of evasion required to deny the efficacy of vaccines is, to me, pathological and to reward or embrace that level of mental dysfunction is tantamount to surrendering one's own mind. The twisted illogic of RFK Jr. has caused him to liken the impact of vaccines, which have saved hundreds of millions of lives, to the Holocaust.
This attitude towards vaccines is nothing short of the return of the primitive and represents the nihilistic worship, not of technological progress and the genius of Jenner and Pasteur, but of the misery, death, and pestilence that vaccines delivered us from. A harbinger worth contemplating as these forces work to make America pestilential again.