This past August, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke with prominent proponents of the discredited link between vaccines and autism, including disbarred British physician Andrew Wakefield, at a fundraiser in Florida.
Trump chatted with a group of donors that included four antivaccine activists for 45 minutes, according to accounts of the meeting, and promised to watch Vaxxed, an antivaccine documentary produced by Wakefield, the senior author of a now retracted 1998 Lancet study linking autism to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Trump also expressed an interest in holding future meetings with the activists, according to participants.
The Trump transition team did not respond to requests to confirm the content of the 11 August event.
“There was a concentrated opportunity to discuss autism” with Trump, says Mark Blaxill, one of the participants. Blaxill is executive director of XLP Capital, a technology investment firm with offices in New York City and Boston, and editor-at-large of the Age of Autism website, which says it gives “voice to those who believe autism is an environmentally induced illness, that it is treatable, and that children can recover.”
Gary Kompothecras, a chiropractor and Trump donor from Sarasota, Florida, and Jennifer Larson, a Minnesota-based technology entrepreneur, confirmed to ScienceInsider that they were also at the event.
Earlier this week, on Age of Autism, Larson wrote: "Now that Trump won, we can all feel safe in sharing that Mr Trump met with autism advocates in August. He gave us 45 minutes and was extremely educated on our issues. Mark stated 'You can't make America great with all these sick children and more coming'. Trump shook his head and agreed. He heard my son's vaccine injury story. Andy told him about Thompson and gave him Vaxxed. Dr Gary ended the meeting by saying 'Donald, you are the only one who can fix this'. He said 'I will'. We left hopeful. Lots of work left to do."
Trump is no stranger to the anti-vaccine movement. He has suggested in interviews, tweets and during debates that he sees some link between childhood vaccinations and autism, despite the lack of any scientific evidence supporting such a link. (The U.S. Institute of Medicine concluded in a 2014 report that there is no link, adding that the current vaccine schedule for children should be left as it is.) “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM,” Trump tweeted in 2014. “Many such cases!”
As president, Trump will have the authority to appoint a number of influential public health officials, including the surgeon general, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the head of the Food and Drug Administration. It is not clear how any views he holds on vaccination might influence his appointments or administration policies.
Wakefield, who was barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom after authorities concluded he had committed “professional misconduct” and now lives in Austin, did not respond to a request for comment.