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Eric Fombonne is worried, to say the least, about what a potential vaccine-safety commission headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could mean for science and public safety.
Putting Kennedy who has spent years pushing the link between vaccines and autism in such a position "shows a complete misunderstanding of science," said Fombonne, who researches autism epidemiology and vaccines.
"There is no link between [autism and vaccines] and a lot of time and public funding has been going to debunking those hypotheses," Fombonne said Thursday during a visit to Salt Lake City.
The researcher was in Utah to speak at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute as well as the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center for Learning about his current genetic research on autism.
The timing of Fombonne's arrival was unrelated to Trump's moves, said Bill McMahon, director of the U. Department of Psychiatry's Autism Community Outreach.
McMahon said he brought Fombonne to the U. to talk about his worldwide autism research, as well as to recruit individuals for an autism genetic research study launched by the Simons Foundation. Researchers hope to recruit 50,000 individuals with autism and their biological parents when possible from across the country for the program, known as SPARK, or Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge.
But McMahon said the recent news likely spurred interest in Fombonne's talk.
"Donald Trump is on our marketing committee for science," McMahon joked.
This week, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, met with President-elect Donald Trump and told reporters after the meeting that Trump asked him to take the helm of a "vaccine safety" commission, according to online news site Politico.
Politico reported that, not long after, it had received an email from the Trump administration saying no decision had been made but that Trump was "exploring the possibility of forming a committee on autism, which affects so many families."
Although extensive research has yielded "absolutely no evidence" of links between vaccines and autism, Fombonne said, the health community still is working to gain people's trust.
"It takes time to restore confidence in the population," he said. "There are some people who say, 'I don't want to take the chance' ... and it leads to less vaccinations."
That, in turn, leads to the spread of infectious diseases, such as mumps and measles, that could easily be prevented.
"Vaccines are about safety," Fombonne said. "We don't want people to stop vaccinating their children."