Will Trump Administration Seek to Weaken Vaccine Requirements?

By Evie Blad — January 10, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President-elect Donald Trump has expressed some skepticism about vaccine requirements in the past. Will that skepticism be reflected in the work of his administration?

Concerns among vaccine supporters flared up again Tuesday when, after visiting Trump, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he agreed to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity” at the president-elect’s request, according to press pool reports. Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, is an attorney and vocal vaccine critic.

The purpose of the commission would be “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects,” Kennedy told reporters.

“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said. “His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science. And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have—he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I—but
they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”

Critics of vaccine requirements for school attendance, which are set at the state level, rely on disproven claims that link them to autism. As my colleague Christina Samuels wrote after the subject was raised at a Republican primary debate last year, vaccines do not cause autism. Not even receiving multiple vaccines at one time.

At that debate, Trump said “autism has become an epidemic” and that it’s gotten “totally out of control.” He believes that vaccines should be given on a different schedule. “I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time,” Trump said.

As Samuels wrote:

As a percentage of the entire student population, children and youth with autism have increased from 0.2 percent in 2000-01 to 0.9 in 2011-12, according to the Department of Education. But what is behind those numbers? As I explained in a blog post earlier this year, scientists believe diagnostic substitution accounts for at least some of the increase in autism prevalence. Doctors are diagnosing as autism what might have been classified as intellectual disabilities in previous years. Doctors are also better at spotting autism behaviors that might have gone undiagnosed in the past."

Who decides vaccine requirements? And who decides what children are exempt?

Every state sets its own vaccine requirements for school attendance, relying on federal recommendations. The greatest difference in these requirements lies in how and why families can claim exemptions based on religious, personal, or philosophical reasons.

” Almost all states grant religious exemptions for people who have religious beliefs against immunizations,” according to the National Conference of State Legislators. “Currently, 18 states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral or other beliefs.”

As I’ve written previously, several states have made efforts to tighten those loopholes in recent years. Supporters of those efforts argue that philosophical exemptions are too broad. As I wrote in 2014:

Requiring vaccines before school admission has been a key component of a decades-long campaign that had nearly rid the United States of some of its most severe illnesses, from the measles to whooping cough, public-health experts say. But they also warn that broad "personal belief" exemptions that don't relate to a child's medical condition or a family's religious beliefs have made it too easy to bypass vaccines, poking a sizable hole in the public-health safety net. While some parents act out of a sense of personal conviction, others do so simply because they don't have time to schedule an appointment, said Stephanie L. Wasserman, the executive director of the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition, an Aurora, Colo.-based group that seeks to increase vaccine coverage in the state. "We want to close that convenience loophole," she said. "When you choose not to immunize, there are consequences not only to your child and your family; there are consequences to your community as well.""

So how could the Trump administration affect vaccine efforts?

For one, the very creation of such a commission lends credibility and a pretty big voice to vaccine skeptics.

As president, Trump will also appoint officials to high positions in agencies that set vaccine recommendations and fund research, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the presidential megaphone can influence both the behavior of individual families and the political will to pass policies at the state and local level in support of vaccines.

Photo: Nurse Catherine Craige draws a chickenpox vaccination in Berlin, Vt. -Toby Talbot/AP-File

Related reading on vaccines:

Follow @evieblad on Twitter or subscribe to Rules for Engagement to get blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States Bill to Restrict How Race and Racism Is Taught in Schools Headed to Texas Governor
If the "critical race theory" bill sounds familiar, that's because lawmakers passed a similar one during the regular legislative session.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
4 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Eric Gay/AP
States Infographic Which States Are Reporting COVID-19 Cases in Schools?
Some states are reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in their schools and districts. Use this table to find your state's data.
Image shows the coronavirus along with data charts and numbers.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
States From Our Research Center Map: A-F Grades, Rankings for States on School Quality
Here’s a map showing grades for all the states on this year’s Quality Counts summative report card, on which the nation gets a C overall.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
Illustration of students reading with pie chart.
States Nation Gets a 'C' on Latest School Quality Report Card, While N.J. Again Boasts Top Grade
A slight increase in this year's Quality Counts score isn't enough to boost the nation's school system above last year's middling grade.
8 min read
Illustration of students reading with pie chart.