Inoculate vaccination commission from fake science
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After years of pushing back against scientifically discredited claims that vaccinations cause autism, health professionals and researchers are seeing results: vaccination rates are finally back on the rise in the U.S.

Yet just recently, a guest column by Dr. Daniel Neides, Chief Operating Officer of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s claim that then President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump's Hollywood Walk of Fame star defaced Report: Senate's Russia probe understaffed Trump won't comment on Le Pen's advancement in French election MORE asked him to “chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity” have once again put the anti-vaccination cause back in the spotlight. President Trump’s team has since disavowed Mr. Kennedy’s claim concerning his selection to lead the committee.

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These developments have the potential to derail longtime efforts to mitigate the negative effects of news around vaccines and autism. Despite the numerous, extensive and reproducible tests that prove that vaccinations do not cause autism, some public figures continue to feed conspiracy theories about vaccine safety. Using taxpayer dollars for an inquiry that may perpetuate harmful doubts, spread misinformation and possibly even lead to new immunization policies that are unsupported by science could have grave consequences for American families.  

Nevertheless, if there is to be such a commission, health care experts and scientists have a responsibility to fully participate. This is the only way to ensure that the commission’s conclusions are not one-sided, but rather the result of a rigorous and open discussion that addresses the concerns of parents, eliminates myths and creates broad consensus on how to protect our nation’s children from devastating infectious diseases.

As researchers, nurses and doctors, the proliferation of discredited theories only makes our job harder and creates dangerous—and unnecessary—hurdles for safeguarding the nation’s public health. In fact, we have already seen the price we all pay for not vaccinating children, with recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough across the U.S. all directly related to parents’ refusals to vaccinate.

Because of such alarming stakes, we clearly recognize that we must do more to reassure and educate families while forcefully rebutting unsubstantiated claims. A full and definitive airing of all the scientific evidence by such a commission may present an opportunity to do so. If this presidential commission comes to fruition, these are the issues that should be addressed and settled once and for all:

First, the committee should weigh all the possible risks associated with the spacing of vaccinations. This means evaluating the CDC and AAP schedules as well as determining the harm that could be done if we space out or delay the vaccination schedule of children, thereby exposing vulnerable children to potential infection for an unnecessarily longer period of time.

Second, the commission should reinforce efforts by the National Institutes of Health to further increase scientific rigor and transparency in research. By leading efforts to verify that study conclusions are truly independent and not compromised by financial incentives, we can reassure families that, regardless of the source, the science is solid.

We must also acknowledge that there is clearly a need to address some outstanding myths that keep the discredited anti-vaccine movement alive within our society. Researchers, doctors, nurses and other experts must stand prepared to be a part of this committee, and we call upon our colleagues to join us in demanding that scientific experts have a seat at the table. Now is the time to fully assume our civic duties. Public health should not be a partisan issue.

As pediatric researchers, our job is to advocate for our patients and we understand that all parents ultimately just want the best for their kids. Making major decisions about a child’s health is a profound challenge—especially when you are unsure of whom to trust or what is simply true or false. If we can address outstanding questions and finally convince skeptical parents that the best way to truly protect their children is to vaccinate them, we will have performed a real public service. 

Ashley Darcy-Mahoney is an assistant professor and neonatal nurse practitioner at the George Washington University School of Nursing and the director of infant research at GW's Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute. Dr. Darcy-Mahoney’s research has led to the creation of programs that improve health and developmental outcomes for at-risk and preterm infants. Kevin Pelphrey is a neuroscientist who serves as the Carbonell Family Professor and Director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at the George Washington University and as a public member of the United States Government’s Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. Dr. Pelphrey is also the father of a son and a daughter with autism. His research has identified the brain basis of autism spectrum disorders and created new tools for improving evidence-based autism treatments.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.