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EDITORIALS

EDITORIAL: Russian roulette with kids' lives

The York Dispatch
  • Is it surprising to learn Trump might pursue the conspiracy theory linking vaccinations to autism?

Who would have thought?

A little more than one week before the inauguration, Americans are openly wondering if the Russians really do have dirt on Donald Trump, embarrassing information that could be used to blackmail our soon-to-be president.

Or perhaps members of Trump’s team really did collaborate with a hostile foreign government via intermediaries during the recently ended campaign.

CNN’s bombshell report Tuesday says those are indeed among the claims U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating.

While the information has not been substantiated, the network reports our top intelligence chiefs found the source credible enough to include a synopsis of the information in secret briefings last week for Trump, President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders from both parties.

Salvador Dali wouldn’t know what to make of this surreal mess.

So is it any surprise to find out our incoming president might pursue the conspiracy theory linking childhood vaccinations to autism?

Of course the theory has been thoroughly debunked — in the real sense, not the co-opted version Trump and his supporters now apply to facts they don’t like — in study after study over the years.

WATCH: Trump holds news conference amid compromising dirt reports

The president-elect breathed new life into the dangerous idea last year during a primary election debate, when he suggested vaccinations can cause autism.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — one of his debate opponents and now his pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development — corrected Trump, pointing to “well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations.”

Case closed (again)?

Not a chance — not in this bizarro land we now live in.

Scientists and medical professionals were aghast this week to hear Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — one of the highest-profile proponents of the discredited theory — say he had been asked by Trump to chair a new commission on vaccines.

The Washington Post reported Kennedy made the remark Tuesday — the same day the CNN story broke — as he was leaving Trump Tower after a meeting with the president-elect. A Trump spokeswoman later said no decisions had been made.

“Let’s hope Trump drops any idea of a vaccine panel headed by Kennedy,” Seth Mnookin, author of “The Panic Virus,” a book about the vaccine-autism theory, wrote in an op-ed for the online health news site STAT.

“For more than a decade, Kennedy has promoted anti-vaccine propaganda completely unconnected to reality,” Mnookin argues. “If Kennedy’s panel leads to even a small decline in vaccine rates across the country, it will result in the waste of untold amounts of money and, in all likelihood, the preventable deaths of infants too young to be vaccinated.”

There was a time in America when illnesses such as polio, measles and whooping cough were common in children, and death was a very real possibility.

These days, thanks to science and decades of public health education, these and other illnesses are rare, and deaths from them are almost unheard of, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smallpox has been completely eradicated.

Vaccination rates in this country range from 84.2 percent for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis to 93.3 percent for polio — high enough to provide “herd immunity.” That’s the idea that if enough of a population is vaccinated, even the few unvaccinated people won’t be infected.

But that could change if people like Trump and Kennedy cast enough doubt on the safety of vaccines that more people stop protecting their children against these easily preventable diseases.

It’s crazy, but at this point anything seems possible.