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Home » Debunking RFK Jr’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 6, Gulf War Syndrome and vaccines

Debunking RFK Jr’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 6, Gulf War Syndrome and vaccines

Last updated on May 2nd, 2024 at 11:13 am

This article, part 6, on the Gulf War Syndrome and vaccines, of a series of 7 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 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 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 describe the science behind the Gulf War Syndrome. Of no surprise to people who read this blog – the book authors have a profoundly impaired understanding of the concepts they are trying to communicate.

In chapter 6, the book authors attempt to frame military vaccines as the cause of many of the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome. They forget that there were multiple investigations (others include this and this) into the causes of this syndrome, and again, just like in the previous chapters, willfully misrepresent studies. They forget that even in their sources, there is evidence to support that there may be multiple “Gulf War Syndromes” that ultimately explain all the different symptoms experienced by the soldiers.

This article will review each of Kennedy and Hooker’s allegations about how the Gulf War Syndrome is related to vaccines.

unrecognizable crop man in wristwatch with stethoscope
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Allegation 1 – “Vax-Unvax,” Gulf War Syndrome and vaccines

In this study, chronic symptoms occurred more often in those soldiers who received vaccines.

The authors first off, miss the entire point of the study, which was to quantify symptoms in those soldiers who were deployed during the Gulf War, versus those who weren’t (selecting from a subset of Kansas residents). The study did indeed find more chronic symptoms in those soldiers who participated in the Gulf War, but this core conclusion is de-emphasized in the book.

When they discuss the odds ratios of sickness in the vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated, they naturally omit that many of the odds ratios that were calculated were not statistically significant. In plain English, that means that while the ratio of vaccinated versus unvaccinated people reporting symptoms was bigger than 1 (more vaccinated people reported a specific symptom), the ratio actually could have been equal when statistical confidence is taken into account.

Next, the study authors remind the readers that self-reported vaccine records/ symptoms may contain inaccuracies, and could be influenced by good old-fashioned recall bias. Finally, the authors omit that there were multiple formal investigations into Gulf War syndrome (see first paragraph), implicating pyridostigmine and pesticides as major causative agents in some subsets of people (although it is acknowledged that other studies found other likely causative agents and others refuted the hypothesis).

Lastly, they omit that the military has several more vaccines than the civilian world and are given out depending on the situation, which may have different side effect profiles than vaccines in the civilian world.

Allegation 2

In this study, chronic symptoms occurred more often in those British soldiers who received vaccines.

Again, the book authors miss the entire point of the study, which essentially mirrored the study detailed in the paragraph above. The actual study authors concluded:

Service in the Gulf War was associated with various health problems over and above those associated with deployment to an unfamiliar hostile environment. Since associations of ill health with adverse events and exposures were found in all cohorts, however, they may not be unique and causally implicated in Gulf-War-related illness.

They make the same rather rookie mistake, which is to try and scare people about odds ratios of people reporting more symptoms with vaccines. However, suppose you pull up the table they are deriving their allegations from. In that case, you will find that many of the odds ratios are nonsignificant (the bracketed numbers that contain 1, such as the odds ratio for the pertussis vaccine). What this mistake means is – within the confidence of their measurements, there very well could have been no difference between the levels of symptoms.

Allegation 3 – “Vax-Unvax,” Gulf War Syndrome and vaccines

In this study, “Among veterans of the Gulf War, there is a specific relation between multiple vaccinations given during deployment and later ill health”.

The problems with the study have been addressed in this source, from which I quote:

Firstly, the possibility of confounding by exposure to other agents cannot be ruled out. More than 20 types of exposure were implicated in the original paper but were not controlled for in these analyses.

Secondly, the apparent interaction between multiple vaccinations and deployment was seen in a subset of 923 out of 3284 respondents who had kept vaccination records but not in the whole cohort, suggesting that the findings in the restricted sample might in some way be biased.

Thirdly, the information obtained from participants about their vaccination records might not have been reliable. For example, there was no evidence of “catch-up” vaccination occurring during deployment among those who had had the fewest vaccinations before deployment. Also, anthrax vaccination was reported much more frequently than pertussis vaccination, even though they were always given together. Since the reporting of pertussis vaccination is thought to be reasonably accurate, this suggests that anthrax vaccination was substantially overreported, a problem confirmed in US veterans of the Gulf war.

Fourthly, an overriding concern is that symptomatic veterans who had kept their vaccination records might have been aware of the hypothesis being tested and hence overreported the vaccinations that they had received during deployment.

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