Besides the seemingly countless other scandals and questions about dubious dealings swirling around the President-elect's new administration, Donald Trump's latest appointment sticks out for many parents as more shocking than most. Trump has appointed one of the most famous anti-vaxxer activists in the country to head up a commission on vaccine safety, adding credibility to widely debunked claims of a link between vaccines an autism. Here are vaccine exemption laws by state to offer a clear view of just how many kids are at risk if the federal government gets behind peddling conspiracy theories at the expense of public health and safety.
On Tuesday, Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a very public vaccine skeptic, according to NPR, and Kennedy told to reporters the meeting was to discuss Kennedy serving the new administration's committee on vaccine safety. "President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies," Kennedy told reporters following his meeting with Trump, according to NPR.
The Trump transition team later released a statement saying the possibility of a vaccine safety commission is only being considered, but based on Trump's previous statements, it's pretty clear both Kennedy and Trump line up against the prevailing view of the scientific and medical community that vaccines are safe and save lives.
Trump has made several statements in the past that cast doubt on the safety of vaccines and the debunked link between vaccines and autism. In 2014, he fired off this tweet with an anecdote about an anonymous child saying, "Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!"
Then during a 2015 presidential debate, Trump further explained his skepticism for vaccines.
"You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks like just it’s meant for a horse and not for a child,” Trump said, according to TIME. “We had so many instances ... a child had a vaccine, and came back and a week back had a tremendous fever, got very very sick, and now is autistic.”
Just after Trump's meeting with Kennedy about vaccines, the American Academy of Pediatrics responded with a statement that read, according to ABC News:
Claims that vaccines are linked to autism or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease. Vaccines keep communities healthy and protect some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the elderly and children who are too young to be vaccinated or have compromised immune systems.
We stand ready to work with the White House and the federal government to share the extensive scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of vaccines, including the recommended schedule.
All 50 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, have basic vaccine requirements for kids to enroll in school. However, all states offer exemptions for kids for medical or religious reasons, the NCSL said. There are 18 states which offer exemptions for "philosophical" reasons, like believing vaccines are harmful, despite all medical evidence to the contrary, NCSL reported.
This has led to a resurgence of dangerous diseases once under control. Perhaps the most recent, and high-profile case that illustrates the danger anti-vaxx conspiracies can cause to public health is the 2015 Disneyland measles outbreak, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, was the result of parents who refused to vaccinate their children. The preventable outbreak spread the deadly disease across seven states and into two other countries.
If the incoming president is willing to be a part of spreading debunked science that puts America's kids at risk of contracting deadly diseases, perhaps the best bet for concerned parents is looking to state legislatures to tighten up mandates for childhood vaccinations. Here's how to contact your state representative.