Trump taps vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy to chair vaccine safety panel

President-elect Donald Trump met Tuesday with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and outspoken critic of vaccines for children, at Trump Tower in New York City. After the meeting, Mr. Kennedy announced he accepted Mr. Trump's offer to chair a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.

"President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it," Mr. Kennedy told reporters after the meeting Tuesday, according to STAT. "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. And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have — he's very pro-vaccine, as am I — but they're as safe as they possibly can be."

A spokesman for the president-elect told NBC News later that Mr. Trump was "exploring the possibility of forming a committee on autism" with Mr. Kennedy but that "no decisions have been made at this time." 

Mr. Kennedy, son of the former attorney general and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, has argued thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in immunizations, can be harmful to children and has advanced arguments there is a link between vaccines and autism.

"They get the shot. That night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone," Mr. Kennedy said at the 2015 premier of an anti-vaccination film screening, according to The Washington Post.

Although a number of studies have discredited the idea that thimerosal can cause autism, many manufacturers have reduced the amount of the preservative in vaccines, according to STAT.

"There is no evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site," according to the CDC.

However, as a precautionary measure, public health agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics and vaccine manufacturers agreed in 1999 that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines, according to the CDC.

Following Mr. Kennedy's announcement Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released the following statement.

"Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease. Vaccines keep communities healthy, and protect some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the elderly, and children who are too young to be vaccinated or have compromised immune systems."

The American Medical Association expressed concerns Tuesday about the creation of a new vaccine safety panel. 

"The American Medical Association fully supports the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect the health of the public," the AMA said in an emailed statement. "We are deeply concerned that creating a new commission on vaccine safety would cause unnecessary confusion and adversely impact parental decision-making and immunization practices. The United States has a long-standing system for ensuring the ongoing development, safety, and efficacy of vaccines. The AMA will continue its work to promote public understanding and confidence in the use of vaccines in order to prevent resurgence in vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths."

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Editor's Note: This story was updated Jan. 11 to include the AMA's statement. 

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