Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Credit: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons

This makes some sense if your intention is to deal a massive blow to the reputation of the Kennedy clan, but a lot less sense if you care about maintaining your own reputation:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the nation’s most prominent skeptics of childhood vaccines, says President-elect Donald J. Trump has asked him to lead a vaccine panel.

It’s appalling that any Kennedy would agree to legitimize Donald Trump in any way, but to legitimize him on an idiotic conspiracy theory is doubly galling.

Mr. Kennedy’s appointment spread alarm through the medical community, which for years has rejected claims that childhood vaccines are linked to conditions like autism. Medical experts warned Tuesday that Mr. Trump’s actions would endanger children by confusing parents about the need to have them vaccinated.

“It gives it a quasi-legitimacy that I frankly find frightening,” said William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. He said Mr. Trump and Mr. Kennedy were being fooled by “long-discredited” theories about vaccines.

“This is going to be a sad struggle as we try to protect as many children as possible,” Mr. Schaffner said.

I think there are legitimate grounds for researching how our vaccines are administered on pretty much a perpetual basis to constantly assess the safest course for inoculating children against preventable diseases without doing them any unnecessary harm. But the way to do that is to set up a longterm study financed through a government health agency that is run by actual scientists rather than by someone with no expertise who seems to have already made up his mind.

The worst part is that Kennedy is smart enough to know that he’s going to kill more people through raising skepticism about vaccines than he could ever hope to spare from autism even if his theories proved to be correct. That puts a very high onus on being correct which he simply isn’t justified in believing.

“Look at all the people I’m fighting,” he said, referring to officials and scientists at the CDC and other federal agencies. “These are people who care about children and public health. So many of them have said to me, ‘I got into this because I was inspired by your father to give my life to public service.’ It’s hard to go against those people.”

Still, he says he can’t — and won’t — walk away from the issue.

In case I didn’t get that message, a few seconds after we said goodbye, he popped out of his hotel room and called out to me down the hallway. He caught up with me. “One thing that keeps me buoyant about this, because otherwise, I’d be depressed,” he said. “I know I’m gonna win this one. I have the ability to push this over the finish line. I know I do. The truth will prevail.”

More to the point, his record on this issue is clear. He doesn’t respond to contrary evidence. He will not follow where the evidence leads him because he’s on a crusade. So, unless he’s right and the scientific community is wrong, there’s no chance his vaccine panel will be helpful. Instead, it will do real damage and get a lot of kids sick.

Anyone who’s skeptical about vaccines should be upset about this appointment because this isn’t the right way to get to the truth.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at