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Home » Debunking of RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 1

Debunking of RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 1


This article, part 1 of a series of 4 debunkings of a new book, “Vax-Unvax: Let the Science Speak” is written by Frank Han, M.D., an academic board-certified pediatrician/ pediatric cardiologist. He splits his time between cardiac imaging (Nuclear, CT, MRI, and echocardiography), inpatient cardiology, and outpatient cardiology. He primarily cares for cardiology patients of all ages with congenital heart disease and is dedicated to educating pediatric residents and medical students.

Dr. Han first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and saw it explode during the COVID pandemic. He has since focused his efforts on spreading the joy of science literacy and teaching patients how to take charge of their own health while navigating the tricky online world of medical information. Dr. Han has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @Han_francis. The comments expressed by Dr. Han are his own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of OSF Medical Center, or the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

Robert F Kennedy Jr and Brian Hooker are two dedicated anti-vaxxers who came out with a new book in 2023, claiming to be able to poke holes in the major aspects of the standard childhood vaccine schedule. However, if the reader has been following the anti-vax ecosystem for any length of time, it is obvious that they recycle their arguments year after year to sell anti-vax sentiment. They don’t have any genuine desire to work together to make vaccines safer.

As is true for my previous debunk of “Turtles All the Way Down” (the anti-vax book), I will split my arguments into chapters generally following the chapter list of this book. Both books make full use of science denial tactics used frequently against many aspects of traditional medicine and the natural sciences. This book has many redundant arguments so I will generally not repeat arguments more than twice.

If you only remember one thing from this series, remember that there is nothing one can say to a Children’s Health Defense board member or a dedicated anti-vaxxer, that would convince them that vaccines are safe and effective. Science doesn’t work that way – that’s dogma. Vaccine safety has been legitimately challenged several times over by dedicated scientists (for example, the removal of an old rotavirus vaccine for intussusception, and the creation of the mRNA vaccine myocarditis warning label). It is the anti-vaxxer who is never willing to change their mind because it would affect their income if they operated honestly.

This first review will be about “CHAPTER 1 – vaccinated vs the unvaccinated – why have the proper studies not been conducted?”  

girl getting vaccinated vax-unvax
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Allegation 1 from “Vax-Unvax” — too many shots

Allegation: “Today, children following the CDC recommended vaccination schedule receive a minimum of seventy-three shots for seventeen different diseases, with a whopping twenty-eight injections by their first birthday. At a two-month “well baby visit,” an infant may receive as many as six vaccines for eight different diseases” 
 
This is a play on emotions, knowing that certain people will be more susceptible to vaccine fearmongering when the amount of injections is inflated. Different diseases need different numbers of vaccinations to achieve long-lasting immunity, and different vaccinations may be mixed into the same vaccine syringe. We already make combination vaccinations for the explicit purpose of decreasing the number of vaccinations. Case in point – MMR is a vaccine against 3 diseases, but generally requires two doses, so that’s two injections, not six.

The other big reason there are more vaccinations – the technology of vaccinations has improved! We can receive more vaccinations to serious diseases because infectious disease basic science researchers labored for years to make new vaccines a reality.  

Allegation 2 from “Vax-Unvax” — no studies

Allegation: “Long-Term Vaccine Safety Studies Are Lacking/ there are no vaccinated versus unvaccinated studies” 

The core complaint in this chapter is that not enough unvaccinated versus vaccinated studies have been done to prove the worthiness and safety of the vaccine program (this doesn’t even take into account the slight variability in vaccine programs across the world). If you remember only one thing from this particular essay, the anti-vax ecosystem will never accept a study supporting the safety of a particular vaccine. They will always move the goalposts. When a safety study is done or some other demand is met by the anti-vax ecosystem, they will always find something else to complain about. I will next go into great detail, with the receipts, with the multiple times they moved said goalposts.

After the DTP vaccine was retired for its side effects and replaced with DTaP in 1991, there were still widespread complaints about DTaP, trying to pass it off as the same thing as the older DTP, to attempt to continue to scare people about the newer vaccine. After thiomersal was removed from most standard US vaccines in 2001, multiple anti-vax websites, even including anti-vax books for sale on Amazon, still are trying to “call for the removal of mercury” from vaccines.

This is also with a total absence of awareness of the difference between elemental mercury, thimerosal, ethylmercury, and methylmercury, which a chemistry major would be able to point out easily. Even in mercury-containing vaccines, nobody is attempting to add mercury metal. The end-user has been able to request mercury-free vaccines for a very long time.

Read on, to see how I would refute the central point – of how there have been, vaccinated versus unvaccinated studies, and this is what they showed. The most basic and important refutation to the demand for vaccinated versus unvaccinated studies is the presence of reliable outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases every time there is a decrease in vaccination rates. For example, there is Samoa, which is no stranger to measles outbreaks.

The other factor to consider is something called the base rate fallacy. If you have a larger proportion of vaccinated people, the proportion of unvaccinated people is going to be smaller, and the number of unvaccinated people is going to be smaller. When you compare the proportion of vaccinated people to unvaccinated, it will look like, if you just look at the absolute number, that the number of vaccinated people getting ill is bigger. This particular mathematical fallacy has been used at least thousands of times online in an attempt to fool people into thinking that the more vaccinated you are, the more likely you are to get ill, but this is just mathematically incorrect as the number of unvaccinated people decreases as they are vaccinated.

A study comparing unvaccinated versus vaccinated COVID patients is here, and the results strongly favor getting vaccinated to protect against severe disease. A similar study was done with DTaP in a large population cohort, which demonstrated that under-vaccinated and unvaccinated patients had a greater risk of contracting pertussis.

As usual, this book shows little awareness of the seriousness of actually getting vaccine-preventable diseases. HPV vaccines actively prevent most types of cervical cancer in women, and oral and anogenital cancer in both men and women. Studies that the anti-vaxxer ecosystem likes to quote on the topic frequently have statistical issues right from the start, such as using convenience samples.

All in all, there are plenty of unvaccinated/ vaccinated studies if you take the time to have a look around. As usual – the anti-vaxxers have ignored all the studies they don’t like, willfully and systematically. They don’t ever want to admit, that a particular vaccine is generally safe and effective. This behavior would be dogma, not science.

person holding injection
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Allegation 3 — Anthony Fauci

Allegation: “In a 1999 interview, Anthony Fauci, former longtime director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that many severe injuries would remain hidden for years, and if the agency rushed vaccines to approval” 

This was about the ongoing research into HIV vaccines. Some vaccine side effects indeed take time to discover, however, the vast majority of vaccine-related side effects become evident within the first two months of each dose. I bet if the authors sincerely looked for side effects that didn’t show up until the multi-year mark, they would have great difficulty finding them. However, we don’t see any sincere efforts on the part of the authors to fact-check even their statements, because they don’t care to look.

They aren’t interested in vaccine safety, they are interested in picking fights and creating controversy. This is the core of their product – maintaining anti-vax sentiment. They don’t want to concede any vaccine is safe and effective, which by the way, is not characteristic of science – it is characteristic of religion.  

Allegation 4 — hepatitis B vaccine

Allegation: “Despite Dr. Fauci’s warning, FDA clinical safety studies generally last for a relatively short duration, precluding the detection of long-term health effects. For example, researchers monitored vaccine recipients in the Engerix-B (hepatitis B) clinic trial for adverse events for only four days after injection.”
 
If the authors had done even a really basic Pubmed search, they would have found over 500 studies into Engerix monitoring for a variety of study lengths.

Allegation 5 — Institute of Medicine

Allegation: “The IOM conclusion contradicts the CDC’s adamant assertions that “vaccines don’t cause autism.” 
 
Vaccines actually don’t cause autism – autism is a neurogenetic difference in brain connectivity. One only needs to read the references on the CHOP website to see why this is the case.  

Allegation 6 — influenza vaccine

Allegation: “Other relationships for which there is insufficient evidence of safety include the influenza vaccine and encephalopathy”. 
 
False – only a brief web search will reveal a 28-year follow-up study on the possibility of encephalitis and encephalopathy after the influenza vaccine. Should we conclude that RFK has an impaired ability to do web searches in 2024? The number of cases was 0.5 per 10 million vaccinations given.

Allegation 7 — MMR vaccine

Allegation: “Other relationships for which there is insufficient evidence of safety include the… MMR vaccine and afebrile seizures”. 

Both febrile and nonfebrile seizures have been researched to a high level of detail as to their relationship with MMR vaccines.

Allegation 8 — HPV vaccine again

Allegation: “Other relationships for which there is insufficient evidence of safety include the… the HPV vaccine and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis”

By now you get my drift – the authors didn’t want you to know that this has been studied, otherwise, it would degrade their grift. ADEM has most certainly occurred after vaccination but it is so rare that a conclusive link has never been found.  

Allegation 9 — Andrew Wakefield

Allegation: “Physicians and scientists who fall out of line with the orthodoxy of vaccinology emerge as heretics and pariahs. The most famous example took place in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield reported that 8 out of 12 of his autistic patients received the MMR vaccine prior to developing gastrointestinal symptoms and recommended further study.” 

No, Wakefield actually paid off his experimental subjects and was trying to develop his own MMR vaccine. These conflicts of interest are so serious that most modern universities would fire and blacklist any physicians attempting that in the modern day. If you work in a non-medical profession, would this sort of thing be OK in your profession?

Allegation 10 — long-term effects of vaccination

Allegation: “One reason regulators give to dismiss a more rigorous approach in studying the long-term health effects of the vaccination schedule is that vaccine adverse events are “one-in-a-million,” and thus we should stop promoting fear of vaccine injury.”  

We should most certainly stop promoting fear of vaccine injury in the absence of context. Would it make sense to promote the fear of building collapse when you go to work, or the fear of seatbelt contusions when you drive a car? The same goes for vaccines. Their benefits should be methodically compared with their very small risks.

 Allegation 11 — Lazarus study

Allegation: “Specifically, researchers in the Lazarus study found the rate of adverse events to be 1 in 3823 among a population of about 375,000 individuals given 1.4 million routine vaccines. Over the three-year study period, that translated to an individual having a 1 in 10 chance of experiencing an adverse reaction to a vaccine. “
 
This is a backhanded way to complain that VAERS suffers from underreporting. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is the first stop when people are suspecting an adverse event. What an anti-vax author always loves to do, is to de-emphasize all the other researchers and safety systems (apart from VAERS) intended to then look into the side effects in greater detail.

One example of an active surveillance system in the United States is the Vaccine Safety Datalink, which is one of the CDC tools used to actively search for side effects and get a better estimate of the rate of the side effects. While it is true that VAERS won’t come to your door to ask you for side effects after your vaccine, it wasn’t designed to do that in the first place nor establish causation (both indicated on the website).

Anti-vaxxers just love to use VAERS so they can claim the highest possible rates of side effects. Remember, even RFK Jr himself said that no vaccine is safe, but still tried to obfuscate even his own words. Selling the anti-vax narrative is their product – these people don’t have any genuine desire to improve vaccine safety. If they did, RFK Jr and Children’s Health Defense would spend some of their considerable funds on peer-reviewed research. 

Allegation 12 — placebo effect

Allegation: “However, most vaccine clinical trials lack a true saline placebo, making a proper evaluation of vaccine safety impossible.”  
 
No, quite a few vaccine trials were done versus saline placebo, of which this is only one. In addition, this ethically is very problematic because it involves intentionally exposing children to vaccine-preventable diseases, whose consequences are sometimes very serious. Anti-vaxxers always play down the seriousness of these diseases, until it is their family member or child (and even then still reach for natural herbs or alternative remedies with little evidence). 

Allegation 13 — aluminum

Allegation: “In fact, rather than using a saline placebo, researchers gave the control group an injection of highly toxic amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate (AAHS), a strong adjuvant with no prior safety testing. “

Aluminum is one of the most common adjuvants in vaccines (and is our oldest). Some vaccinations require adjuvants (things that make the immune reaction stronger during vaccination) because the plain active ingredient by itself doesn’t elicit much of an immune reaction. One of the simplest reasons you compare a vaccine product to its adjuvant is to separate the possible side effects related to just the active ingredient versus those side effects related to the adjuvant.  

Allegation 14 — pregnancy

Allegation: “As another example, in a study of flu vaccines in pregnant women, researchers gave the control group a meningococcal vaccine that the FDA has never tested for safety in pregnancy. “

Again a failure of very simple fact-checking; there are many ways in which meningitis vaccines have been tested in pregnancy.  

Allegation 15 — vaccine safety

Allegation: “The CDC’s VSD also contains records for unvaccinated children, making it an ideal data source for assessing vaccine safety.” 

Again a failure in basic fact-checking – there are quite a few studies based on VSD data that are available for the public to review, of which one source is the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

Conclusion

The authors got up on the wrong side of the bed. They try to hide facts they don’t want the reader to see and pretend that those facts don’t exist. In law and business schools, this is recognized as an intellectually dishonest debate tactic. A charitable interpretation of this first chapter is that the book author’s ability to fact-check is extraordinarily impaired.

That the authors repeat the same tactic paragraph after paragraph, would suggest to me that this tactic is intentional, and they need it to build their brand. I recommend to the viewer coming here, to not fall for this tactic. In 2024 it is easier than ever to digitally spread disinformation – make it harder for disinformation actors to do their work by being meticulous about the information that you consume.

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