As I have written over a number of articles, it is clear that Robert F. Kennedy Jr (RFK Jr) doesn’t know anything about vaccines, but his family pushed back hard against him. He is doing a disservice to humanity with his disinformation campaign. Children are put in harm’s way by keeping them from vaccines that prevent dangerous and deadly diseases.
Let’s take a look at an older statement from members of the Kennedy family that condemned RFK Jr’s falsehoods about vaccines. And then there is a more recent situation where RFK Jr made some anti-semitic and bigoted comments that raised the ire of his family once again.
RFK Jr’s family says he’s wrong about vaccines
Apparently, those of us who don’t think much of RFK Jr.’s ignorance about vaccines and pseudoscience often wondered if the rest of the Kennedy family agreed with him. His anti-vaccine beliefs are dangerous, and his close family must have thought he was pushing false information about vaccines. In an open letter to Politico on 8 May 2019, three members of the Kennedy family 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. 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.
Now this was written way back in the halcyon days before the COVID-19 pandemic when a measles epidemic was hitting parts of the US and Europe. Sadly, Robert F Kennedy Jr has doubled down on the COVID-19 vaccines, and I’m sure his family continued to be troubled by his disinformation campaign.
RFK Jr has been attacking individuals and institutions, such as the respected scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has attempted to protect us from vaccine-preventable diseases. RFK Jr relies upon his Dunning-Kruger bias to assume that he knows more and has secret information about vaccines. He doesn’t.
RFK Jr was once an environmental activist and attorney who, despite being anti-GMO and making claims about the environment that are not scientifically based, had some successes in cleaning up the environment. And his family mentions this:
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.
I don’t know why RFK Jr went off the rails on vaccines. Maybe he thought that vaccines were his next big thing after the environment. He decided to focus on thimerosal (thiomersal for you British-speaking readers), which he called “mercury” (it isn’t), claiming that the “mercury” in vaccines was some sort of disaster for children.
Of course, thimerosal, which isn’t mercury again, isn’t in but one vaccine, an adult flu vaccine. And thimerosal is safe.
Then, the Kennedy letter reminds us 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 world fail to grasp. We don’t have a lot of diseases anymore for one reason – massive vaccination programs. Not better sanitation. Not homeopathic potions. Not better nutrition. Vaccines did it, and it’s simple scientific denial to say otherwise.
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 (note — Ted 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.
Kennedy family goes after RFK Jr. again on vaccines and COVID-19
RFK Jr stuck his foot in his mouth again, and once again the Kennedy family condemned his words. In this case, the Atlantic outlines Kennedy’s public comments that seem to be tinged with bigotry and anti-semitism:
Last week, at a dinner event in Manhattan, the Democratic primary candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. shared his unvarnished thoughts about the nature of the coronavirus. “There’s an argument that it is ethnically targeted,” he explained, in remarks captured on video. “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” To be sure, Kennedy added, “we don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not.” In other words, Kennedy apparently believes it is an open question whether the pandemic was engineered by a shadowy cabal to spare Chinese and Jewish people.
There is some preliminary evidence that there might be genetic differences in the susceptibility to COVID-19 between ethnic groups. This is important data that is necessary for understanding how the disease may affect one group or another. Many diseases have different effects depending on the ethnic group.
However, RFK Jr was taking this to another level by implying (or outright stating) that the disease was “engineered” to spare Chinese and Jewish people. This is disgusting racism, no matter how one looks at it. Of course, there is a long history of blaming Jews for diseases — Jews were blamed most famously for Europe’s Black Death.
RFK Jr loves conspiracy theories. Again, the Atlantic article pointed out several of his favorites:
Here is just a small sampling of what Kennedy believes: that radiation from wireless internet causes cancer; that chemicals in the water supply are producing gender dysphoria; that the CIA killed both his father and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy; that antidepressants cause today’s mass shootings; that George W. Bush stole the 2004 presidential election; and that your phone’s 5G connection is part of a plot “to harvest our data and control our behavior.”
But his anti-semitic and bigoted beliefs about COVID-19 took his conspiracy nonsense to an even higher level. And that’s when his family stepped in.
Kerry Kennedy, RFK Jr’s sister, was forced to drop a statement that said in part, “I STRONGLY condemn my brother’s deplorable and untruthful remarks last week about Covid being engineered for ethnic targeting.”
She also wrote, “His statements do not represent what I believe or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stands for, with our 50+ year track record of protecting rights and standing against racism and all forms of discrimination.”
Joe Kennedy III, a nephew of RFK Jr, also commented:
My uncle’s comments were hurtful and wrong. I unequivocally condemn what he said.
So, there you go. Robert F Kennedy Jr’s own family condemns him for his views on vaccines and on his COVID-19 conspiracy theory.
RFK Jr made a racist and bigoted claim about COVID-19, where he took a tiny bit of accurate information and blew it up into a vast conspiracy about Jews and Chinese. That was disgusting and wrong. Of course, he’s been spouting disgusting and wrong things about vaccines for a long time.
I doubt his family will have any effect on him. He and his sycophants will continue with their disinformation campaign about vaccines. And the best we can do is to point out his false claims, and hope that over 90% of Americans continue to vaccinate their children and themselves against deadly diseases.
- Hou Y, Zhao J, Martin W, Kallianpur A, Chung MK, Jehi L, Sharifi N, Erzurum S, Eng C, Cheng F. New insights into genetic susceptibility of COVID-19: an ACE2 and TMPRSS2 polymorphism analysis. BMC Med. 2020 Jul 15;18(1):216. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01673-z. PMID: 32664879; PMCID: PMC7360473.
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