Presidential Candidate Donald Trump On Autism, Vaccines, And Mental Health
Donald Trump is leading the GOP field in polls of Republican voters. This fact has some grabbing the popcorn, others tearing out their hair, and still others shaking their heads at the state of U.S. politics today. But if you’re among the one in four adults in the US with a mental health condition, if you have an interest in children’s health, or if you love an autistic person, then you might view Trump as more troubling than bemusing or amusing.
First, there’s his willingness to apply mental illness as an epithet. Using Twitter TWTR +0.41%, his favorite online tool, he has called into question Obama’s mental health, calling the president’s decision not to block flights from West Africa during the 2014 Ebola scare “psycho.” He doubled down on those comments later, stating in an interview that “there’s something wrong” with Obama, implying that the POTUS just isn’t quite right in head because his policies don’t align with The Donald’s. Of course, that scare ended without realization of the fears that motivated Trump’s outburst.
Trump also appears to believe that mental illness, rather than guns or other deadly weapons, kills people, saying about the Louisiana movie theater killings:
Well, these are sick people. I mean, these are very, very sick people. This has nothing to do with guns. This has to do with the mentality of these people.
And then there’s his belief about autism. Eight years ago, Trump was evidently convinced that vaccines cause autism—or at least, vaccines as administered according to the recommended schedule. He decided in 2007, he said at the time, to have his son administered “one shot at a time” in what he described as “a very slow process.” He also said that his “theory is the shots” are responsible for autism.
Trump seemed to have been under the impression that a child gets a dozen or more vaccines at once, perhaps from a quart-sized syringe with a pump on it, given his comments at a 2007 press conference:
When a little baby that weighs 20 pounds and 30 pounds gets pumped with 10 and 20 shots at one time, with one injection that’s a giant injection
Seven years later, he still seems to have thought that the injections are “massive” and that children being immunized against infectious disease are being treated like horses. Here is the vaccine schedule for children ages 0 to 6 years. Here is the vaccine schedule for horses. Here is how vaccines have changed over the years, now having far fewer of the components that trigger the immune system while still being effective.
You can see from the childhood vaccine schedule that a child does not get “pumped with 10 and 20 shots” at one time. Each vaccine is timed to prevent the development of a disease at a stage when a child is most at risk for complications.
In contrast to our nation’s established, always improving, and successful childhood vaccination program, seven years later, Trump’s “theory” about autism and vaccines has remained unchanged in spite of substantial evidence debunking it. In the time since that 2007 press conference, abundant evidence covering millions of children supports no link between the two.
Yet just last year, Trump took to Twitter, again, to urge people to spread out vaccines. Why? Autism, of course. Indeed, he’s so sure about a non-evidence-based approach to vaccination—“spreading them out”—that he’s promised to make it part of his presidential agenda. Why? To quote The Donald himself: AUTISM.
If he were successful in his presidential bid and urged that vaccine policy, the result would be increased risk for children who go unvaccinated during their period of greatest risk from vaccine-preventable disease. And, presumably, more statements stigmatizing people with mental health conditions.
Given these outlandish assertions and beliefs and our society of armchair psychologists, it’s probably no surprise that Trump himself has been on the receiving end of many a diagnosis from those who have never met him. As I’ve written before, diagnosing a mental illness is a structured, straightforward process but not one to undertake casually, whether you’re a critic of Mr. Trump or Mr. Trump himself.