The anti-vaxxers were out again this week, spreading misinformation and debunked science about an intervention that’s saved millions of lives and prevented immeasurable human suffering. It’s unconscionable.
That person is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who — to repeat — is not a doctor, not a scientist, not a public health practitioner, not an expert in vaccinology. Regardless, he told the press earlier this year that President Trump had asked him to chair a vaccine safety commission, even though the country already has one of those — it’s called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and its members are actual scientific experts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a vaccine safety committee too. Well, Kennedy was back this week, telling reporters he was still in contact with the Trump administration about forming that “commission” (quotes mine and on purpose). In addition, he and actor Robert De Niro announced a fun new $100,000 challenge to “prove” (again, quotes mine and on purpose) vaccines are safe. Here’s a report from Salon:
Kennedy on Wednesday announced at a press conference the formation of the World Mercury Project that will “pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can find a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women,” according to a press release. Kennedy believes “’a meager effort at homework’” will expose that contention as unsupported by science,” according to the release.
Of course, a quick visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and you’ll find that thimerosal was taken out of childhood vaccines in 2001. In fact, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine never even contained the preservative. And even after thimerosal was eliminated from child vaccines, rates of autism continued to go up. But, Kennedy doesn’t seem to have much respect for CDC, defaming its character and the dedicated public health workers who work to protect this country from disease. (I’ve been reporting on and interviewing federal, state and local public health workers for more than 15 years and I can say, without reservation, that they are driven by science and the desire to prevent human suffering. There is no great glory and profit to public health work.) But here’s what Kennedy thinks of our nation’s top public health agency, courtesy BuzzFeed News:
But in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Wednesday that included the actor Robert De Niro, Kennedy argued that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in cahoots with journalists, have been denying the dangers of vaccines, fueled largely by money pumped in by a powerful pharmaceutical industry. He called the public health agency a “cesspool of corruption” and “a vaccine company,” that hid science from the public.
I have no words. Thankfully, hundreds of public health, medical and advocacy groups do. In a Feb. 7 letter to Trump, the organizations conveyed their “unequivocal” support for vaccines, attaching a list of studies demonstrating the safety of vaccines for Trump’s reference. In their own words:
Put simply: Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives. Our organizations welcome the opportunity to meet with you to share the robust, extensive scientific evidence supporting vaccine safety and effectiveness.
I truly hope the president takes them up on their offer.
P.S. Regarding that $100,000 challenge…
It's actually not that much money when you split it between 7 billion people who don't have polio https://t.co/Y3sUFyioie
— Jordan Ellenberg (@JSEllenberg) February 16, 2017
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years.