Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said on Tuesday that the Trump administration had turned its back on vaccine skeptics, including himself, after initially expressing interest in creating a group to look into their safety.
“He told me that he wanted to create a vaccine safety commission and that he wanted me to chair it,” Kennedy said in response to a question at the Connecticut Vaccine Science Forum. “He asked me to announce it at a press conference, to the press at Trump tower and almost immediately I started feeling a lot of blowback within the administration.”
Kennedy said that at the beginning of the administration, he met with Trump, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Jared Kushner, former senior advisor Steve Bannon and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway about setting up the commission.
“I was very optimistic about it,” he said, adding that he initially was given “high level meetings” with “agencies” and presented a powerpoint detailing his group’s belief that vaccines were harmful to children.
“We left convinced the White House was going to follow up and then the White House went dark,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy put blame for his ostracism on the administration’s hiring of “pharmaceutical lobbyists who are very pro-vaccines” to run the Centers for Disease Control and other healthcare-related agencies. “Policy, the president likes to say, policy is personnel, well, he put in those positions, personnel that represent the policies that he wants which is very, very pro-pharma agenda,” he said. “I’m sorry to report.”
One of Trump’s CDC directors, Brenda Fitzgerald, did have to abruptly resign from the post because her financial interests forced her to recuse herself from too many agency matters. The current head of the CDC, Robert R. Redfield, was a professor of medicine and microbiology before assuming that post. Neither have previously lobbied for pharmaceutical companies.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
Kennedy is one of the more public vaccine skeptics in the country. His group, Children’s Health Defense, believes there is a link between autism and childhood vaccines, particularly the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, despite the fact that studies have repeatedly shown that there is no such link.
In Trump, he believed he had a kindred spirit. In January 2017, Kennedy told reporters the president had requested to meet with him on the issue of vaccine safety.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said at the time. “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.”
During a 2015 presidential debate, Trump openly expressed skepticism about vaccines.
"You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it's meant for a horse, not for a child, and we've had so many instances, people that work for me,” he said. “ Just the other day, 2 years old, 2 1/2-years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
Since being elected president, however, Trump has largely avoided discussing the topic of vaccines at all.