[Note: Since this was written, Donald Trump won Indiana and Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign. This is why I changed the title of this post on Tuesday night. Meet your presumptive nominee, Republicans.]
I haven’t written anything about Donald Trump and vaccines in a while. When last I did write about him, I enumerated his long, sordid history of making ridiculously pseudoscientific antivaccine statements linking vaccines to autism dating back at least to 2007. That was when I first discovered him and referred to him as the latest celebrity antivaccinationist drinking the Kool Aid of vaccine pseudoscience. A few years later, I noted his risibly nonsensical claim that a “monster shot” causes autism. Truly, Donald Trump’s history of making idiotic antivaccine statements is long and sordid. Of course, Donald Trump’s history of making idiotic statements about a great many subjects is long and sordid, but antivaccine pseudoscience is what I know better than domestic or foreign policy.
Of course, I don’t recall having heard anything from Trump in a while on the vaccine-autism front, at least not since September last year. But his antivaccine lunacy is definitely part of his persona, so much so that when I started to type “Donald Trump vaccines autism” the first entry on the search was a Natural News link from 2012. In any case, I get the feeling that Trump’s antivaccine views were too crazy even for most of Trump’s supporters, hence his relative silence these last eight months. Sure, he can spout off about how he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it and numerous other proposals even more ludicrous than that, but he’s apparently toned down the antivaccine nonsense. Now, with the Indiana primary today, Trump is on the verge of all but wrapping up the Republican nomination if he wins there today. That’s why I decided to revisit the topic today, particularly given that the issue has reared its ugly head again.
Still, if Trump were actually to become President, he could do great damage to public health. Sure, school vaccine mandates are a state issue, but the guidelines upon which they are based are developed by the CDC. Over the last couple of decades, there have been various antivaccine legislators who have brought CDC officials before Congressional committees to demand “answers” about the link between vaccines and autism. Just imagine how much trouble a President Trump could cause, with his power to appoint a Secretary of HHS. I was reminded of this again by a video in a story that popped up in my feed yesterday featuring Elizabeth Emken.
The reason this is relevant is that Emken used to be the Executive Director of Autism Speaks, an “autism advocacy” group that used to be very much into antivaccine pseudoscience. Indeed, after much foot dragging, it wasn’t until 2015 that Autism Speaks finally grudgingly admitted that there is no good evidence linking vaccines to autism after a large study was published showing no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism and a meta-analysis involving over a million children similarly failed to find a link. It’s not for nothing that Autism Speaks has been quite appropriately accused of speaking up too late on vaccines.
That tension, and the weasel words that characterized it among many autism advocacy groups, fairly drips from Emken’s response to a question about Donald Trump’s beliefs about vaccines, complete with an example of a quote by Donald Trump about having heard of children getting sick and becoming autistic after vaccination. Here’s the video:
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) May 2, 2016
Donald Trump spokeswoman Elizabeth Emken, a former executive with the leading advocacy group Autism Speaks, was put in a difficult position Monday when asked about the frontrunner’s earlier statements linking vaccines and autism.
Asked on CNN about Trump suggesting a scientific link exists between childhood vaccines and autism during a fall 2015 presidential debate, Emken sidestepped a direct rebuke of Trump’s claims.
“The position of Autism Speaks has been for quite awhile that we need to find out what’s happening,” she replied. “We know there’s a genetic component and there’s an environmental trigger and until we get to the bottom of what’s happening, no one knows what causes autism. Anyone that tells you what does or what doesn’t cause autism is simply not basing that on facts.”
I see now why Emkin was chosen to be Trump’s spokeswoman. The above is basically one massive appeal to ignorance, the implication that, because we don’t know what causes autism that some environmental factor—cough, cough, vaccines—must be causing autism. Don’t believe me? Check out what she says next:
“We don’t know, we need to keep looking,” Emken continued, saying she hadn’t discussed the issue with the GOP frontrunner. “But the bottom line is, look, vaccines are the most successful health program in the history of the world, so I don’t believe that’s at all what he was saying.”
This is, of course, a bald-faced lie; that is, unless Emken is not . Let’s take a look at the sort of things Donald Trump has said about vaccines over the years just on Twitter. Truly, the burning stupid flowing from that one Twitter account is not unlike a flow of ash from Mount Vesuvius engulfing Pompeii. Here is but a sampling:
Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2012
If I were President I would push for proper vaccinations but would not allow one time massive shots that a small child cannot take – AUTISM.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2014
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
No more massive injections. Tiny children are not horses—one vaccine at a time, over time.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2014
I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied. Save our children & their future.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2014
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2014
I'm not against vaccinations for your children, I'm against them in 1 massive dose.Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2014
So many people who have children with autism have thanked me—amazing response. They know far better than fudged up reports!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2014
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2014
You get the idea. That’s some hard core antivaccine quackery. Trump’s meaning is very, very clear, Emken’s attempts to deny it notwithstanding. But, hey, if that’s not enough for you, let’s review a bit more of what Trump has said on the topic over the years. I apologize to long time readers, who have probably seen many of these quotes before in various posts I’ve written over the years, but, now, with Trump on the verge of becoming the Republican nominee and Ted Cruz’s chances to stop him are fading, I feel the need to revisit these. Not that Cruz is any less scary than Trump, but he isn’t, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, antivaccine.
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.
“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 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.”
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.” I note that this appears to be the example that was presented to Emken. It couldn’t be more clear what Trump meant, either: He attributed his employee’s son’s autism to vaccines, which he called 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.
If that’s not enough for you, in 2015, when interviewed by conservative talk radio show host Hugh Hewitt, the question of vaccines and autism came up. Here’s how the conversation went down:
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.
Again, contrary to Emken’s twisting around the issue, Trump’s meaning couldn’t have been more plain. He believes vaccines cause autism. He doesn’t believe any of those elitist pointy-headed scientists who say otherwise, and nothing will make him change his mind. Nor does Trump sound as though he believes that vaccines are the “most successful health program in the history of the world,” as Emken put it.
I referred to the tension at the heart of Autism Speaks regarding vaccine-autism pseudoscience. The organization was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright, who were always fence sitters on the question of whether he believed vaccines cause autism. His daughter Katie, however, was a true believer that vaccines cause autism, a belief that caused a great deal of friction with her parents and the organization. For years, the organization was riven with strife, as the Wrights tried to appease the vaccine/autism pseudoscience contingent, which provided much of the money and ultimately led to a schism in the group. As recently as last September, Bob Wright was using the same sort of weasel words that Emken used. It’s useful to note that the scientific advisor’s statement was:
Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.
To which Bob Wright added:
Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.
Note the weasel words: Scientific research has not “directly connected autism to vaccines” and “efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety.” Not only that, but the science officer’s statement was expunged from the website. If you go to the Autism Speaks website, all you will find is Bob Wright’s statement.
As the primary season winds down, the Republican Party is on the verge of nominating an antiscience, antivaccine loon named Donald Trump. It looks as though he will have a spokeswoman who, through the use of weasel words like those of the co-founder of the organization she used to work for, will try use her skills to make Trump’s antivaccine nonsense sound more palatable. She will fail.