RFK Jr vaccine denialism – other Kennedys think he’s wrong

We have written a lot about Robert F. Kennedy Jr in these pages. The vaccine denialism of RFK Jr is a regular topic here, and let’s just say we are not a fan of his.

We’ve written about RFK Jr and CDC patents – he’s wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and serious journalists – they ignore him

We’ve written about RFK Jr and Senator Richard Pan’s recent election to the California Senate – Senator/Dr. Pan won

We’ve written about RFK Jr attacking the esteemed Dr. Paul Offitabsolutely wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and his bad science – he was wrong again

And let’s not forget that RFK Jr begged the anti-vaccine President of the United States, Andrew Wakefield’s good friend, Donald Trump to make him the head of some idiotic vaccine safety commission – never happened.

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An open letter to RFK Jr from the family

Apparently, those of us who don’t think much of RFK Jr.’s vaccine ignorance and pseudoscience often wondered if the rest of the Kennedy family agreed with him. With the ongoing epidemics of the not-so-benign measles, his anti-vaccine beliefs are dangerous. In an open letter to Politico, three members of the Kennedy clan took RFK Jr out to the proverbial woodshed regarding his dangerous anti-vaccine views.

The letter, penned by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a respected Democratic politician and fundraiser, Joseph P. Kennedy II, former Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, and Maeve Kennedy McKean, who has been focused on global health, took Robert F Kennedy Jr, their cousin and uncle, to task on vaccines.

You can read the whole letter in the linked Politico article, but I wanted to excerpt some of the better parts because it is always valuable to reiterate the settled science of vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Americans have every right to be alarmed about the outbreak of measles in pockets of our country with unusually high rates of unvaccinated citizens, especially children. Right now, officials in 22 states are grappling with a resurgence of the disease, which was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. With over 700 cases already reported and indications that more outbreaks will occur, 2019 will likely see the most recorded cases of measles in decades. And it’s not just measles. In Maine, health officials in March reported 41 new cases of whooping cough, another disease once thought to be a relic of the past—more than twice as many cases as this time last year.

This problem isn’t only an American one. The World Health Organization reports a 300 percent increase in the numbers of measles cases around the world this year compared with the first three months of 2018. More than 110,000 people are now dying from measles every year. The WHO, the health arm of the United Nations, has listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Most cases of preventable diseases occur among unvaccinated children, because parents have chosen not to vaccinate, have delayed vaccination, have difficulty accessing vaccines, or the children were too young to receive the vaccines.

These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—Joe and Kathleen’s brother and Maeve’s uncle—is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases. He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.

To be honest, I don’t think the anti-vaccine religion would have any traction today without the “internet doomsayers.” People with their Dunning-Kruger cognitive biases and Google University degrees are pushing fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines which put children at risk of dangerous, and often deadly, diseases.

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RFK Jr has been at the forefront of this campaign of lies and misinformation. He is attacking individuals and institutions who protect us from vaccine-preventable diseases. And his family is pointing out his participation in this racket.

We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment. His work to clean up the Hudson River and his tireless advocacy against multinational organizations who have polluted our waterways and endangered families has positively affected the lives of countless Americans. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.

And his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences. The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they’ve been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact. But that’s not luck; it’s the result of concerted vaccination efforts over many years. We don’t need measles outbreaks to remind us of the value of vaccination.

They are right. RFK Jr used to be one of the “great champions” of environmental advocacy. I wasn’t a fan of everything he did with the environment, like being anti-nuclear energy, but he promoted causes that mostly were popular with those of us who are “pro-environment.”

Then he went off the rails. He conflated actual environmental dangers of pollution with the bogus claims of a few anti-vaccine zealots who pass on lies and misinformation about vaccines. And because of him, and many others, we now have a dangerous measles epidemic.

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Then, the letter reminds of a few facts about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases:

The fact is that immunizations prevent some 2 million to 3 million deaths a year, and have the potential to save another 1.5 million lives every year with broader vaccine coverage, according to the WHO. Smallpox, which plagued mankind for thousands of years, has been eradicated through vaccines. Because of immunizations, no cases of polio have been reported in the United States since 1979. And countries such as Australia, with robust human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine programs, are on track to eliminate cervical cancer, a major killer of women around the world, in the next decade. This is the only vaccine we have that fights cancer. No matter what you might have read on social media, there is no scientific basis to allegations that vaccines against HPV pose a serious health threat. And numerous studies from many countries by many researchers have concluded that there is no link between autism and vaccines.

These are points that RFK Jr and the rest of the anti-vaccine religion fail to grasp. We don’t have a lot of diseases any more for one reason – massive vaccination programs. Not better sanitation. Not homeopathic potions. Not better nutrition. Vaccines.

In concluding their letter, the family wanted to remind RFK Jr that the Kennedys have been instrumental in getting Americans vaccinated.

President Kennedy signed the Vaccination Assistance Act in 1962 to, in the words of a CDC report, “achieve as quickly as possible the protection of the population, especially of all preschool children … through intensive immunization activity.” In a message to Congress that year, Kennedy said: “There is no longer any reason why American children should suffer from polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, or tetanus … I am asking the American people to join in a nationwide vaccination program to stamp out these four diseases.”

While serving as attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy promoted community empowerment models to address urgent social needs like better health care, leading to the development of community health centers, which our uncle Ted Kennedy championed throughout his long career in the Senate. Community health centers have been on the front lines of vaccination campaigns for more than 50 years in rural America, in inner-city neighborhoods and on Native American reservations to immunize our most vulnerable populations.

Senator Kennedy led numerous campaigns for reauthorization of the Vaccination Assistance Act, took up the fight for the Child Immunization Initiative of 1993, and authored many other measures to increase the availability of vaccines for uninsured adults through community health centers.

Yes, Senator Ted Kennedy, RFK Jr’s uncle, sponsored and led the effort in Congress to bring vaccines to all children, the Vaccines for Children Program, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since 1993. If Ted Kennedy were still alive, I wonder what he would say to his nephew.  

The letter closed with these important comments:

Those who delay or refuse vaccinations, or encourage others to do so, put themselves and others, especially children, at risk. It is in all our interests to make sure that immunizations reach every child on the globe through safe, effective and affordable vaccines. Everyone must communicate the benefits and safety of vaccines, and advocate for the respect and confidence of the institutions which make them possible. To do otherwise risks even further erosion of one of public health’s greatest achievements.

Yes. I wish everyone would remember these points.



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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!