By David Meyer
May 18, 2018

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been talking about his surreal encounters with President Donald Trump again, and this time he’s revealed some worrying details about the president’s lack of medical savvy.

In a video shot earlier this week at a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, and published Thursday by MSNBC, Gates regaled his audience with the tidbit that, on both occasions when he met with Trump after the election—in December 2016 and March 2017—the president expressed confusion about the difference between HIV and HPV.

He also highlighted Trump’s well-known obsession with vaccines, which the president believes are linked to autism—a venerable and thoroughly debunked theory.

“Both times [Trump] wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV. So, I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other,” said Gates.

Although both viruses are often spread sexually, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to AIDS, while the less-serious human papillomavirus (HPV) sometimes causes genital warts and lesions that can become cancerous.

“In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren’t a bad thing, because he was considering a commission to look into the ill effects of vaccines…Robert Kennedy Jr. was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things,” Gates said. “And I said no, that’s a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don’t do that.”

Kennedy, the scion of assassinated U.S. attorney general and Senator Bobby Kennedy, is an outspoken proponent of the idea that mercury-based thimerosal—a compound that stops germs from growing in vaccines—causes autistic spectrum disorders. However, there is no proven link between the vaccine preservative and autism.

Trump has many times indicated that he sides with the anti-vaccine cause, regularly tweeting about his concerns, bringing up the issue in a Republican primary debate, and even meeting with “anti-vaxxer” heroes such as Andrew Wakefield, the former British gastroenterologist who was struck off the U.K. medical register over his fraudulent 1998 research paper that sparked the anti-vaccine debate.

The anti-vaccine conspiracy theory is far from harmless, as skepticism over vaccines threatens the “herd immunity” against devastating diseases that communities enjoy when everyone is vaccinated. When parents shun vaccines, the results can, for example, be seen in deadly measles outbreaks.

Gates, who used his meetings with Trump to push the idea of a flu vaccine, disclosed a few weeks ago that Trump had offered him the vacant post of White House science advisor. Unsure if the offer was genuine, Gates told Trump it was “not a good use of my time.”

With that, the vaccine and HPV/HIV revelations, and an anecdote in the new video about Trump’s comments on the appearance of Gates’s daughter (to the displeasure of Melinda Gates), it seems unlikely that the two will be chatting again anytime soon.

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