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Some infectious disease specialists are anxious about the future of US vaccine policy; others are willing to suspend judgment, for now.
Was it a signal of new administration's attitude toward vaccines?
Recent news reports disclosed that Donald Trump met during the summer with a group of anti-vaccine activists including the movement's most prominent leader, Andrew Wakefield, MBBS, whose now-retracted publications first linked vaccines to autism risk. Trump also made remarks during the campaign expressing doubt about vaccine safety and effectiveness.
MedPage Today asked more than a dozen specialists in infectious disease and public health whether they thought the Wakefield meeting might signal a new, more skeptical attitude in Washington toward vaccines.
Some said it is a definite cause for worry.
"I think it is fair to say that everyone involved with vaccines (public health, pediatricians, family docs, patient advocacy groups, etc.) is very concerned!" said William Schaffner, MD, of Vanderbilt University, in an email. "This is potentially serious stuff."
Matthew Boulton, MD, MPH, of the University of Michigan, expanded on that theme. "The fact that [Trump] met with a doctor (Andrew Wakefield) to discuss vaccine policy who was shown to have blatantly falsified data in his study linking autism and vaccines and who has since been drummed out of the scientific and medical communities is rather astounding. I think the anti-vaccine crowd will definitely be emboldened with Trump in the White House."
Boulton added that he expects "the anti-vaccine community will grow more vocal and assertive because they perceive [Trump] as an ally."
Similarly, Anne Gershon, MD, of Columbia University, told MedPage Today that she was "horrified" to learn of the Wakefield encounter. "Given the appointment of Tom Price to head HHS and the planned attacks on the CDC, I strongly fear for control of infections by vaccines," she said in an email. "The failure to appreciate science... is frightening. If we can't control these falsehoods about vaccines, we are going to have epidemics of measles, rubella (and congenital rubella) and other 'childhood' infections that are even worse in adolescents than in children."
But other experts took more of a wait-and-see attitude.
"I think [Trump] is very unpredictable. âI don't see him as science driven but as a practical economic issue vaccination makes sense," said John Sinnott, MD, of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
David Topham, PhD, of the University of Rochester, argued, too, that Trump is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. "It's one thing to engage with certain constituents during the election, and to imply support to win the greatest number of supporters, it is another thing entirely to face down overwhelming evidence that vaccines save lives and that they are not linked to autism."
"Optimistically," said Carol J. Baker, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, "I would think Trump as a businessman and Price as a physician would clearly see the cost saving and great health benefit of vaccines to our population (real data not opinion) combined with the increasingly robust facts concerning safety."
And several respondents expect a much clearer signal of the new administration's approach to public health when Trump's pick to head the CDC is announced. "It is hard to know how concerned to be until we hear who is being considered for CDC director," said Emily Martin, PhD, MPH, of the University of Michigan.
That nomination has not yet been made and the Washington rumor mill has so far been silent about it.
Roger Sergel, Executive Producer, contributed reporting to this article.
This article was first published on MedPage Today and reprinted with permission from UBM Medica. Free registration is required.