It’s evidence that anti-vaxxers are emboldened right now.
The anti-vaxxers are having a moment right now.
A month after he met with then-President-elect Donald Trump, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — a fervent vaccine feat-mongerer — descended on Washington, DC, today with actor Robert De Niro to hold a press conference about vaccine safety.
The event was a showcase of some of the most thoroughly discredited claims about vaccines, from the notion that they cause autism, to the suggestion that vaccines are a huge source of mercury in kids that’s sickening them.
Kennedy has a long history of fear-mongering about vaccines, focusing in particular on the claim that the mercury in shots makes kids sick. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews has explained:
In 2005, he published an article titled “Deadly Immunity,” in both Rolling Stone and Salon, alleging that the mercury-based chemical thimerosal, which was once but is no longer used as a preservative in children’s vaccines, causes mercury poisoning and in turn autism. There is no evidence to support this view. The consensus position of the medical community is that thimerosal does not cause mercury poisoning in children, and in any case the symptoms for mercury poisoning and autism are radically different. A comprehensive review by a committee of the Institute of Medicine in 2004, the year before Kennedy’s article, concluded that “the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”
Kennedy’s article at Salon was retracted, after the online magazine had to run a series of corrections that contradicted many of the claims in the piece.
What’s more, thimerosal hasn’t been used in vaccines for children since 2001. The public health community removed it as a precautionary measure. So it’s not clear why RFK Jr. continues on this mercury and vaccines tirade.
Robert De Niro also has a history of anti-vax sympathy. Last year, the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded, greenlit the screening of Vaxxed, an anti-vaccine film by the discredited physician-researcher Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield authored a retracted paper claiming the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine increases the risk of autism. The blowback from the scientific community was so fierce, De Niro withdrew the film from the festival — a move that was referred to as “censorship” at the event today.
De Niro and Kennedy’s press conference is more evidence that the anti-vax movement has been emboldened under Trump. As I explained in a feature story, we now have a president who courts known anti-vaccine crackpots and makes the same kinds of pseudoscience claims about lifesaving immunizations that they do. And vaccine researchers are now fearing the return of outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps at a time when more parents in many states are opting out of routine shots for their children.