Congress Pushes Back as Trump Spurs Anti-Vaccine Movement
Policy + Politics

Congress Pushes Back as Trump Spurs Anti-Vaccine Movement

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Alarmed by the growing anti-vaccination movement that has been fanned by President Trump, Republican and Democratic leaders of the premier congressional health committees have mounted a campaign to persuade parents to get their young kids vaccinated against measles, whooping cough and other serious diseases.

For many, it seems like the height of irrationality and recklessness to risk the health of America’s young people by denying them vaccines that have all but eradicated most serious childhood diseases, including polio. Yet a growing number of parents in this country have seized on long-discredited research to argue that vaccinations can lead to autism in their children.

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Trump has embraced this unfounded notion to the point of considering launching a national commission to investigate possible links between vaccines and autism – one headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine skeptic who has spearheaded efforts to roll back child vaccination laws.

With the anti-vaccine movement picking up steam, most notably in Texas, perplexed GOP and Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday signed a letter to their colleagues in the House and Senate seeking to enlist them in trying to restore sanity to this public health care debate and bring the discussion back into the realm of scientific research, according to Axios.

"We write to you today to highlight the importance of immunizations, which protect Americans, especially infants and children, against outbreaks of serious and deadly infectious diseases,” the letter stated. “Vaccines save lives.”

They added that as members of Congress, “we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly diseases.”

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The lawmakers signing the letter included Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), and Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), the chair and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Public health officials have warned that the growing movement away from childhood vaccinations is undermining the extraordinary progress made over the years in combatting deadly or crippling childhood diseases. Worldwide, vaccines prevent the death of an estimated 2.5 million children every year, although deadly diseases like measles continue to pose a problem in areas where not enough children are vaccinated, according to a report by The Washington Post.

In Texas, where parents legally can exercise a “personal-belief exemption” to prevent their children from being vaccinated, the number of school-aged children who are not being vaccinated has climbed dramatically since 2003. The number of cases of parents exercising a personal belief exemption soared from 2,314 during the 2003-2004 school year to 44,716 during the past school year, according to the Post.

Research published nearly 20 years ago sought to show a link between childhood vaccines and autism, but that data was subsequently discredited due to falsified information. Since 2003, there have been nine studies funded or conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no link between vaccines and autism.

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Nonetheless, Trump, who has no scientific background or training, has repeatedly raised the possibility of a link between the two. Most recently, during a Feb. 14 meeting with special education principals and teachers, Trump said: “What’s going on with autism? When you look at the tremendous increases, it’s really — it’s such an incredible – is it really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase.”