The long, sordid antivaccine history of Donald Trump

Note added 9/17/2015: I knew it. The vaccine issue came up during the second debate and Donald Trump repeated basically the same nonsensical antivaccine tropes that he’s been repeating for at least eight years. It rather puts the lie to his claim that he listens to experts and changes his opinion based on what they tell him. Hilariously, Mike Adams is painting it as an attempt by CNN to “destroy” Donald Trump using the vaccine issue. Depressingly, Ben Carson, while defending vaccines, fell into the “too many, too soon,” trope, something a pediatric neurosurgeon should know better than to say. Truly, the antivaccine stupid in the heart of the Republican Party is still there.

As a measure of the insanity that drives me to blog, it occurred to me that last week’s vacation almost certainly represents the longest amount of time in a decade that I didn’t post even a single brand new post. There was a brief announcement, sure, that I was on vacation, but the rest of my posts were either reruns or a delayed crosspost from my not-so-super-secret other blog. As far as I can tell, that’s unprecedented. Even eight years ago, when I last visited London, I still couldn’t resist a couple of new posts, to my wife’s annoyance. It’s probably healthier that I’ve gradually slowed down over the years.

So how does one ease back into this blogging thing after some time away? Obviously, given the regular topics of this blog, one way is to wander over to that wretched hive of antivaccine scum and quackery, Age of Autism (AoA), and see what the merry band of antivaccine “journalists” and “autism advocates” have been up to in my absence. It didn’t take me long to come across Dan Olmsted’s weekly wrap, which featured Donald Trump. If there’s one thing I learned while in London, it’s that the British appear to be highly amused by the whole Trump phenomenon and wondering if there is really a chance he could become President. What I appreciated about being in England (besides being on vacation in England) was that I heard almost nothing about Donald Trump. It was truly a relief to escape the 24/7 (seemingly, anyway) all-Trump, all the time news coverage of the Republican primaries. Since I only sporadically checked Facebook while I was there and barely checked Twitter at all, I saw very little of what Trump was up to last week, and that was a good thing indeed.

There is, however, one thing about Donald Trump that I’ve been meaning to discuss for a while now, and my perusal of the last week’s worth of antivaccine advocacy over at AoA tweaked me to finally do it. I’ll show you what I mean by quoting Olmsted’s weekly wrap:

I wonder: Why isn’t there a huge groundswell in the autism advocacy community for Donald Trump? We seemed to like him better when he was not in a position to do anything. Here we have the first leading major party candidate to say the studies are fudged, the shots are too many too soon, and the result is autism.

I’ve lived in Washington and covered politics here for three decades, and believe me, it is a big freakin’ deal that the Republican front-runner embraces our issues when we aren’t respected in virtually any other way.

You might now be wondering what Olmsted meant by Trump “embracing our issues.” Easy. Trump is antivaccine to the core. Don’t believe me? Never heard this before? Oh, ye of little faith! Orac can back up this statement very easily. To begin, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Donald Trump might be hip, happening, and now as far as the media is concerned because of his skill for making outrageous and often offensive statements so full of burning stupid as to threaten to singe the fabric of reality, but one thing that isn’t frequently discussed is his long history of parroting antivaccine misinformation.

The first time I learned of Donald Trump’s antivaccine proclivities was way back in 2007. What was he saying back then? This:

“When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” Trump said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’ve giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.”

He made the comments following a press conference at his Mar-A-Lago estate announcing a fundraising and lobbying push by Autism Speaks to get the brain disorder covered under private insurance policies.

And:

“When a little baby that weighs 20 pounds and 30 pounds gets pumped with 10 and 20 shots at one time, with one injection that’s a giant injection, I personally think that has something to do with it. Now there’s a group that agrees with that and there’s a group that doesn’t agree with that.”

Referring to his and his wife Melania’s 22-month-old son Baron, Trump continued: “What we’ve done with Baron, we’ve taken him on a very slow process. He gets one shot at a time then we wait a few months and give him another shot, the old-fashioned way. But today they pump the children with so much at a very young age. We do it on a very, very conservative level.”

So, yes, back in 2007, Trump was already misunderstanding the meaning of word “theory” as used by scientists. (Hint: It doesn’t mean “half-assed guess.”) He was also parroting the antivaccine pseudoscience that at that time I had been deconstructing for seven years and blogging about for nearly three. It was a performance—and, let’s face it, everything Trump does in public is performance art, if you can call it that—that was brilliantly parodied at Autism News Beat as The art of the schlemiel. In any case, I’m hard pressed to come up with any time when a baby gets 10 or 20 shots at a time, and that’s even assuming that Trump was ignorantly conflating the number of diseases vaccinated against in combination vaccines with “shots.” For example, the DTaP vaccinates against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or three “shots,” to use Trump’s apparent parlance, and MMR vaccinates against measles, mumps, and rubella, or three more “shots.” That’s six, so far, but in only two real shots. You get the idea. Trump seems to think that each vaccine in combo vaccines is a single shot, or at least he talks as though that’s what he believes. I use the present tense, because he’s still doing it, and this 2007 interview was just the first example of which I’m aware in which he did that.

Four years later, Trump was still at it. On Fox and Friends, he repeated once again that he had a “theory” about vaccines, and that was:

Business mogul Donald Trump chose the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day to reveal that he “strongly” believes that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are linked to exposure to vaccines.

In a Monday interview on Fox News, the reality star explained that a series of casual observations had led him to the conclusion that “monster” vaccinations cause autism.

“I’ve gotten to be pretty familiar with the subject,” Trump said. “You know, I have a theory — and it’s a theory that some people believe in — and that’s the vaccinations. We never had anything like this. This is now an epidemic. It’s way, way up over the past 10 years. It’s way up over the past two years. And, you know, when you take a little baby that weighs like 12 pounds into a doctor’s office and they pump them with many, many simultaneous vaccinations — I’m all for vaccinations, but I think when you add all of these vaccinations together and then two months later the baby is so different then lots of different things have happened. I really — I’ve known cases.”

The video can still be viewed here.

Tellingly, when he was challenged on this by Gretchen Carlson, who noted that “the studies have said that there is no link” and that there hadn’t been any mercury in vaccines for years, Trump would have none of it:

“It’s also very controversial to even say,” Trump acknowledged. “But I couldn’t care less. I’ve seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations and a month later the child is no longer healthy.”

Don’t trust those pointy-headed expert scientists. They’ve only been spending their entire lives studying the issue! Trump knows better then they do! Why? He’s got anecdotes, man:

“It happened to somebody that worked for me recently,” he added. “I mean, they had this beautiful child, not a problem in the world, and all of the sudden they go in and they get this monster shot. You ever see the size of it? It’s like they’re pumping in — you know, it’s terrible, the amount. And they pump this in to this little body and then all of the sudden the child is different a month later. I strongly believe that’s it.”

All because of what Donald Trump calls a “monster shot.” As I pointed out at the time, even if the child were truly “different” after vaccination a month later, that would not be “all of a sudden.” In any case, this is what those of us who pay attention to these things the “too many too soon” gambit. All spreading out vaccines accomplishes is to increase the period of time that a child is vulnerable to infectious diseases for no real benefit of reducing the chance of autism because there is no link between vaccines and autism.

More recently, Trump has become a bit of a Twitter sensation, with over 4 million followers. I must admit, I’m one of them, not because I like Donald Trump (I don’t), but rather because the constant stream of nonsense that emanates from Trump’s smartphone sometimes give me blogging ideas. It’s also much like a car wreck; you just can’t look away. Truly, the burning stupid flowing from that one Twitter account is not unlike a flow of lava from Mount Vesuvius engulfing Pompeii. Here is but a sampling:

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

You get the idea.

Basically, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Donald Trump subscribes to a notion that has been massively discredited from a scientific standpoint. Mercury in vaccines does not cause autism. Like Andrew Wakefield, he believes that the MMR is associated with autism, no matter how much that idea has failed to hold up to scientific scrutiny. I realize that criticizing Donald Trump for being an antiscience idiot is rather akin to criticizing water for being wet or Donald Trump’s hair for having a life of its own—particularly when he’s preoccupied with real science.

This time it’s different, though.

In all the times before, Donald Trump was nothing more than a billionaire with a flair for reality TV and self-aggrandizement. True, in 2012 he did flirt with running for President but never actually went through with it to the extent that he has this time. Now, he’s been the top of the polls in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination for weeks. Now that he’s gotten this far, not surprisingly public health advocates are worried that, even if he still has a very small chance of winning the nomination, his prominence and current frontrunner status run the risk of bringing his antivaccine views back into the public view. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Sooner or later someone will ask Trump about vaccines, as conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt did in February, to which Trump responded:

HH: So you believe there’s a causal connection between vaccines and autism?

DT: Well, a lot of people do. I mean, there are many people that do. And I know at least two people, one of them who works in the building that I’m in right now, a beautiful woman, has a child. The child is 100% healthy, takes the child, who was I think around a year and a half or two years old to get the shot, gets this massive shot of fluid pumped into the baby’s body, and a few days later, catches a fever, and all of a sudden, is severely autistic. And many people, many people have had that experience, Hugh. And I will tell you, on Twitter and on Facebook, where you know, so many people, I feel, it’s sort of interesting, because I get so much response, people are praying for me that I at least say that. So I totally believe in the shot. I totally believe that you should be vaccinated. But let them spread it out over a little period of time. You can’t pump that, because have you ever seen the size of these inoculations? You can’t pump that much fluid into a little baby’s body. And I think it’s having an effect. And I know of at least two cases in my, but many people say the same thing happened to me where their child is totally healthy. They get pumped up with this huge pile of liquid, with many, many different vaccines, and their child turns out to be autistic after it. And all I’m saying is spread it out in smaller doses over a longer period of time.

HH: If a group of scientists came to you and said look, The Donald, that’s just, that’s not right, you’re giving out misinformation, would you change your mind if presented with facts on that?

DT: Well, I’ve seen babies that were totally healthy that weren’t healthy, and I’m not asking for anything. All I’m doing is saying spread it out over a period of time. I’m not saying don’t get inoculated, don’t get the shots, don’t get the vaccines. I’m saying spread it out over a period of time. It doesn’t hurt anybody other than probably the pharmaceutical companies, because they probably make more money putting it into one shot. Maybe it hurts the doctors. I don’t know. But I can say this. Everybody would get the vaccines. They just, they wouldn’t be pumping these massive amounts of liquid into a child.

Donald Trump is so full of conspiracy mongering nonsense and the arrogance to dismiss, bully, and insult anyone who has the temerity to call him on his misinformation. He’s also changed his positions on several issues over the years. One issue he hasn’t changed his mind on in a long time is vaccines. Indeed, he’s been remarkably consistent in his views on vaccines as dangerous, at least as administered now, and a likely cause of autism. He’s been just as consistent as characterizing vaccine shots as “monster shots” with a “massive shot of fluid” that do something to babies to cause autism. Of course, most vaccines are in 0.5 ml to 1.0 ml per dose (for comparison, one ounce is 30 ml), which is not a lot, even for a newborn, but Trump makes it sound as though babies receive gallons of fluid toxic with each round of vaccines, enough to overload them with…something. It’s almost as though this is what Trump thinks a typical round of vaccines looks like:

How Trump seems to see vaccines. Of course, substitute a baby for the head, and you get the idea. To Trump, vaccines are massive glowing vats of toxins and have much the same effect on babies as this solution had on the head.

How Trump seems to see vaccines. Of course, substitute a baby for the head, and you get the idea. To Trump, vaccines are massive glowing vats of toxins and have much the same effect on babies as this solution had on Dr. Hill’s head. Or so it would seem.

 

It’s a new twist on old lies, a combination of plausible-sounding but scientifically invalid old antivaccine ideas, like “too many too soon” with Trump’s apparent horror at nonexistent “huge” amounts of fluid. Worse, Trump’s just too ignorant even to make his claims sound plausible. None of that stops his antivaccine fans from being thrilled at how well he’s doing, and it’s no wonder they’re salivating over even the remote prospect of a Trump Presidency.

After all, he’s been singing their tune at least since 2007.