Former President Donald Trump vowed Monday to create a special presidential commission to investigate a “decadeslong increase in chronic illnesses” as some of his White House rivals run to his right on vaccine safety.
Trump blamed “Big Pharma,” the term members of both parties use to deride the world’s pharmaceutical giants, for the well-documented rise in the percentage of children and adults reporting chronic illnesses over the last several decades. His remarks were a dog whistle to vaccine-skeptical Republicans, who are more likely than Democrats to believe misinformation about vaccines and remain unvaccinated.
“Too often, our public health establishment is too close to Big Pharma — they make a lot of money, Big Pharma — big corporations, and other special interests, and does not want to ask the tough questions about what is happening to our children’s health,” Trump said in a video posted Monday on the platform Rumble. He promised to prioritize his commission “when I’m back in the White House.”
“There has been an unexplained and alarming growth in the prevalence of chronic illnesses and health problems, especially in children,” Trump continued. “We’ve seen a stunning rise in autism, auto-immune disorders, obesity, infertility, serious allergies and respiratory challenges.”
It’s not a coincidence Trump mentions autism first: The false belief that vaccines cause autism is a cornerstone of anti-vaccine movements and conspiracy theories. In general, chronic medical conditions have many causes, but vaccines aren’t one of them.
Trump’s biggest rival for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is hitting the former president for embracing the COVID vaccine in an attempt to siphon support from vaccine opponents.
Trump’s administration spearheaded Operation Warp Speed to get shots in arms at a time when Americans had little other protection against the coronavirus. Even so, Trump himself got the shot in private so he wouldn’t alienate the vaccine skeptics in his base. He’s even gotten booed at rallies for telling his supporters to get the vaccine.
An account affiliated with the presidential campaign for DeSantis — an advocate of “medical freedom” who called for a grand jury investigation into vaccine safety — has noted Trump’s embrace of vaccines and tweeted about Trump’s recent interaction with an Iowa voter who claimed, “people died because you supported the jab.” Trump defended his record and replied that many Americans viewed the shot as “a great thing.”
DeSantis’ political profile exploded after he became a critic of COVID lockdowns and mandated vaccinations, which he’s putting front and center to voters as he competes against Trump.
Trump is also getting squeezed on the vaccine skeptic front by Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a notorious opponent of vaccines who is challenging President Joe Biden in a longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Kennedy had been banned from social media for attempting to link vaccines to autism and comparing forced vaccination to Nazi Germany. He complained this week in a live Twitter interview with the site’s owner, Elon Musk, that social media sites had silenced him for his views, which violated their terms of service against spreading misinformation.
During Trump’s presidential transition, Kennedy claimed Trump offered him a job leading a commission on vaccine safety, while Trump officials said no final decision had been made. The job, and the commission, never materialized.
Despite running in a race for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy has become a darling of the right. He’s also managed to reach 20% support in polls of the Democratic primary, suggesting an uneasiness with Biden’s advanced age.
Trump didn’t mention vaccines specifically in his video, but his message was clear. “If Big Pharma defrauds American patients and taxpayers or puts profits above people, they must be investigated and held accountable,” he said.