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Home » Debunking RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 4

Debunking RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 4


This article, part 4 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 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.

As I did in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series, I will emphasize one chapter of the book “Vax-Unvax: Let the Science Speak,” by Robert F Kennedy Jr and Brian Hooker. In this chapter, the authors attempt to link the polio vaccine to inflammatory bowel disease, the MMR vaccine to autism, and the rotavirus vaccine to intussusception. All three relationships are a mix of deceptive advertising or outright falsehoods.

Vax-unvax

“Vax-Unvax” — polio vaccine and inflammatory bowel disease

For the claimed “relationship” between inflammatory bowel disease and vaccination, one only has to read the actual study quoted, as the authors themselves debunk what the book authors have to say. A direct quote of the conclusions from the study authors:

Results of this meta-analysis show no evidence supporting an association between childhood immunization or H1N1 vaccination in adults and risk of developing IBD. The association between the poliomyelitis vaccine and the risk for CD or UC should be analyzed with caution because of study heterogeneity.

This means that the book authors cherry-picked only what they wanted to hear (a consistent theme throughout the entire book).

The book authors had so little respect for their readers’ intellect that they assumed their audience wasn’t going to do the most basic level of fact-checking and read some of the studies that are being referenced. If you are interested in what professional Crohns researchers have to say on the topic, a deep dive into the subject is located here.

“Vax-Unvax” — MMR vaccine and autism

MMR vaccines do not cause autism – this has been established by a large list of studies that have looked at the question from multiple perspectives. Thiomersal (a preservative that isn’t even used anymore except in the multidose influenza vaccine) exposure in childhood has no relationship with developmental test results in those same children.

Even the entire country of Denmark was studied to try and look for links between MMR and autism but was conveniently left out of this book. It included more than 600,000 people, and this publication was available to the authors before the release of their book, which would lead me to suspect its omission was intentional. The study found no link between MMR vaccination and autism. At this point, we should change the title of the book to: “Let The Science Speak Only when It Agrees with What RFK Jr already Prefers to Hear”.

What does sincere autism research look like? A discussion by people actually knowledgeable about the topic looks like this. A detailed compilation of a large body of evidence can be found in Dr Peter Hotez’s book here (I do not receive any financial compensation for linking to the book). Finally, a good starting material on some of the genetic risk factors for autism can be found here.

“Vax-Unvax” — rotavirus vaccine and intussusception

An old version of the rotavirus vaccine was found to cause intussusception in a small subset of infants who received it. The rotavirus vaccine trials used for licensure didn’t pick it up, but intussusception is not a minor affair, meaning it can cause a baby severe intestinal injury, bleeding, or death.

Before that association became well known, it was feasible to both conduct epidemiological studies and conduct research into the reason why it happens. Ultimately, the CDC discovered/ affirmed this valid association and the rotavirus vaccines have been updated accordingly to decrease that risk. While rotavirus vaccine intussusception only occurred in a small fraction of children, the vaccine community made it their duty to make the vaccines better. The old rotavirus vaccine that did have a link with intussusception has been relegated to the history books.

Actual rotavirus disease is one of the leading causes of infant mortality around the world (and one of the causes of severe life-threatening vomiting/ diarrhea in US children) – so maintaining access to protection against this disease is critical. Vomiting and diarrhea in children have serious medical consequences, including dehydration, electrolyte problems, and mortality.

Ultimately, epidemiological and mechanistic studies working together established the link between the old rotavirus vaccine and intussusception. As usual, dedicated antivaxxers care little about the actual consequences of vaccine-preventable disease.

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