The movement against vaccinating children has, for the most part, been dismissed by pretty much anyone who matters as a bunch of fringe theorists. While there is no credible evidence that vaccines cause autism, as anti-vaccine activists say they do, there is plenty of evidence that vaccines prevent epidemics of horrible, deadly diseases.
Anti-vaccine activists in the U.K. Image: AP
But in Donald Trump, the anti-vaccine movement may find a powerful new ally. STAT News reports that over the winter, Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher who launched the anti-vaxxer movement, met with Trump. And Trump, he said, was sympathetic to his cause.
"For the first time in a long time," Wakefield told STAT, "I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry."
Wakefield launched the anti-vaccine movement two decades ago, when he published a study suggesting that a popular vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella could cause autism. Wakefield lost his medical licence and the study was widely debunked and eventually retracted, but he nonetheless built up a following (among them, most famously, the actress Jenny McCarthy).
As Trump gears up to move into the White House, Wakefield and his misguided followers are hopeful that a Trump presidency will advance their cause.
"I found him to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing," Wakefield told STAT.
Given the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, there is likely not much Trump could do to affect the availability of vaccines at a policy level. But the potential of having an anti-vaxxer in the Oval Office is still terrifying. Despite its complete lack of scientific foundation, in recent years, the anti-vaccine movement has spread. And as it has, so too have the diseases vaccines are supposed to prevent. The autumn of 2015 saw the first death from measles in the United States in 12 years. That same year, vaccine refusal helped spur a measles outbreak at Disneyland.
Vaccines avert between two and three million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation. But keeping diseases like polio, smallpox or measles at bay requires that the vast majority of children are immunised. If Trump promotes a platform that casts doubts on vaccines, it could literally mean that people die.