News that President-elect Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. met on Tuesday rang alarm bells throughout the scientific community, because both have aggressively promoted discredited anti-vaccination theories.

Here are the debunked theories they espouse, and what the science actually says.

THE CLAIM: That the high number of vaccines given to young children can overwhelm their immune systems and cause autism, and that spacing out vaccines over a longer period of time would be safer.


THE SCIENCE: From the second a baby starts to descend the birth canal, it encounters multitudes of bacteria and other microbes to which its immune system must respond. It’s a process that goes on throughout life.

Just by breathing in dust or putting a dirty finger in a mouth, young children are activating their immune systems all the time.

The full complement of vaccines children receive in their first few years of life contain far fewer components that stimulate the immune response than they encounter by eating, drinking, and exploring their worlds, said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert and pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine.

Moreover, modern production methods actually produce more purified vaccines, so even though they’re getting more vaccinations, children today are exposed to fewer immunogenic components than they were decades ago, when they got just one vaccination.

“So although we have 14 [childhood] vaccines today … the fact is that we have fewer immunological challenges [from vaccines] than we did 100 years ago,” Offit said.

(By the way, that one vaccine routinely given decades ago prevented infection with smallpox. The world no longer worries about smallpox because it was eradicated — thanks to the vaccine.)

Despite these evident public health gains, skeptics have circulated a theory that childhood vaccines overtax the immune system in ways that can lead to neurological damage. People made nervous by that idea sometimes embrace an alternative vaccine schedule which recommends spacing vaccines out.

But this alternative schedule is not based on science — and experts say it’s actually dangerous, because it extends the period of time during which children are not fully protected against diseases that can cause serious illness and can even kill.

A 2010 study that compared children who got their vaccines on time to children who were vaccinated on a delayed scheduled or who did not get vaccinations showed no neurological benefit of spacing out vaccination.

And a 2014 study found that children who were vaccinated on a delayed schedule actually had higher rates of post-vaccine seizures, for certain vaccines, than children vaccinated on time. (Some people who believe their children were harmed by vaccines have talked about post-vaccination seizures and changes in behavior.)

THE CLAIM: That exposure to a preservative called thimerosal, used in some vaccines, is linked to rising rates of autism.

“If you actually read the science, which most journalists don’t do, the science is overwhelming that there is a link between the autism and the thimerosal.” — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on “The Daily Show,” 2005.

THE SCIENCE: Before we get to the science, let’s consider a couple of crucial facts. Thimerosal hasn’t been used in childhood vaccines in the US for more than 15 years. And it was never used in the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine that some vaccine opponents have linked to autism.

Thimerosal is used in some vaccines for adults as a preservative, and before 2001 it was used in some childhood vaccines too. When used, it is added to vaccines that are sold in multi-dose vials because it kills bacteria. The preservative ensures that vaccine in a vial doesn’t become contaminated after the first dose is extracted.

Thimerosal is mercury-based, a type called ethylmercury. The human body breaks this substance down and clears it faster than methylmercury, the neuro-toxic substance that can be found in some fish and some paints.

Thimerosal became a focus of the anti-vaccination forces a number of years ago, when activists claimed it damaged young brains and caused autism. Study after study disputed that claim. But out of an abundance of caution it was eventually taken out of virtually all vaccines given to young children. (It is used in injectable flu vaccine packaged in multi-dose vials.) The decision was taken in 1999; childhood vaccines have been thimerosal-free since 2001.

If thimerosal had been causing autism, that development should have triggered a decline in autism cases. But autism rates did not fall in the wake of the withdrawal of thimerosal.

A study from California, published in 2008, looked at autism rates among children in that state before and after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Rates went up after 2001. Denmark had taken thimerosal out of childhood vaccines earlier; it did not see a decline in autism rates, either.

Dr. Eric Fombonne, a child psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University and an autism epidemiologist, said the question about thimerosal has been thoroughly debunked. “These studies have been done with enormous cohorts of children, in different countries, by different investigators with different designs,” Fombonne said. “There was never a signal that was found.”

Andrew Joseph contributed to this report.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify thimerosal is used in injectable flu vaccine packaged in multi-dose vials.

  • Ok to me it seems this article was written on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. So corrupt! How can you compare the bacteria in the Vaginal canal to the bacteria and viruses in vaccines, or getting your hands dirty to vaccines, which shows just how stupid and biased this article truly is. It is a KNOWN fact that vaccines are classified as “unavoidably insafe”. So by this alone you can see that vaccine injury is an unavoidable side-effect of having vaccines. Now, my mother had measles and she is one of eleven children who all had measles they are all still alive today and she conferred that immunity to me when I was a baby protecting me for the first year of life.
    I have had the mumps and chicken pox. No big deal, however, the pharmaceutical hacks would like to put the fear of God in you regarding the normal childhood diseases, which are a right of passage for your immune system. We have not eradicated polio, measles, mumps or the chicken pox and surely never will. We have co-evolved with these diseases. For example, mumps has been shown to prevent ovarian cancers in women who contracted the disease, measles helps to build the child’s immunity and helps to fight cancer causing cells, chicken pox in children prevents shingles in adults by exposing them to natural boosters throughout life. Now what we will se is more virulent disease making a come back and becoming much more lethal because they are evolving. We will need more and more vaccines and the children who do not have them, their children, and their children’s children will survive in the future. Survival of the fittest right? Now I predict that eventually it will be the same controversy surrounding antibiotic resistant bugs that are wreaking havoc because of the careless prescribing rights of doctors around the world and careless pharmaceutical companies (again they’re to blame here) that super bugs will eradicate a lot of humanity. Mark my words the future is bleak because we CANNOT eradicate disease only make them stronger. The only way to truly fight disease is hygiene, make immune systems stronger by epigenetics, through good nutrition and essential vitamins/probiotics, and obviously having good genes. And if you are so careless and idiotic that you cannot see this connection you are blind and an obvious eco chamber for the corrupt pharmaceutical industry that only cares about the bottom line, their vaccines patents, and washing their dirty hands of the mess they created with public health. Science is no longer science regarding vaccines but an orthodoxy. Shame on you that you do not allow even a conversation on this topic. The bad science surrounding vaccines is not the end all and be all on vaccines. Don’t force YOUR dogma on people who do not agree and can read articles and are educated.

  • I am a Rotarian and Chemist by profession. We have worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to immunize children against the polio virus all over the world. 30 years ago 350,000 children contracted polio each year. It’s a horrible debilitating disease. In 2016 only about 100 cases in 3 countries were reported. In 3 years, if we keep vaccinating, polio, like deadly smallpox will cease to infect anyone. There is no scientific evidence polio vaccine harms anyone. The anti-vaccine people appear to refuse to accept this evidence. They evidently demand children avoid polio and all vaccinations. Clearly, anti-vaccination hysteria is cruel, heartless and ruinous to children.

    • To say that the polio vaccine will result in a polio-free world is a cruel joke.
      For instance in India the ‘polio eradication program’ whose vaccines were funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation had resulted in more than 50000 cases of Gullian-Barre Syndrome (GBS). GBS is essentially poliomyelitis by any other name.

    • Mason says Poliomyelitis and GBS are the same thing.

      They aren’t, of course. Among other things, GBS isn’t contagious.

    • Mason is implying that the vaccine for polio is causing GBS. To my knowledge, no association between the vaccine and GBS has been conclusively found.

    • In case you’re not aware, polio was conveniently renamed ‘GBS’ when people came down with paralytic symptoms after receiving the polio vaccines.
      Much has been published showing the link between polio vaccines and GBS. Here are four references :
      1.) Anlar O, Tombul T, Arslan S, Akdeniz H, Caksen H, Gundem A, Akbayram S (2003) Report of five children with Guillain-Barré syndrome following a nationwide oral polio vaccine campaign in Turkey. Neurol India 51:544–5
      2) Haber P, Sejvar J, Mikaeloff Y, DeStefano F (2009) Vaccines and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Drug Saf 32(4):309–23
      3) Kinnunen E, Junttila O, Haukka J, Hovi T (1998) Nationwide oral poliovirus vaccination campaign and the incidence of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Am J Epidemiol 147(1):69–73
      4) Rantala H, Cherry JD, Shields WD, Uhari M (1994) Epidemiology of Guillain-Barré syndrome in children: relationship of oral polio vaccine administration to occurrence. J Pediatr 124(2):220–3

    • Mason cites 4 references to studies mentioning a “link” between GBS and polio vaccinations. But the link is association, which is not the same as causation:

      Ryan MM. Pediatric Guillain-Barré syndrome. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2013;25(6):689-93.

  • The international over-use of vaccine products is going through the roof and we have to challenge this. It is my fear that the long-term consequences of over-vaccination are going to put the over-use of antibiotics disaster in the shade.

    The pharmaceutical industry is driving the growth of the vaccine market, with the apparent enthusiastic support of the scientific/medical establishment and governments.

    The situation is dire in that vaccination policy appears to be dominated by pharmaceutical companies and academics with conflicts of interest, i.e. associations with the vaccine industry. There is no truly independent and objective formulation of vaccination policy, certainly not in my country Australia.

    The mainstream media is also a major part of this shambles, providing little or nothing in the way of critical analysis of vaccination policy. Indeed the media is a major player in vaccine promotion as we have seen in Australia with the Murdoch media’s campaign for compulsory vaccination, i.e. the ‘No Jab, No Play’ campaign, which was obligingly adopted by the major political parties and enacted as the ‘No Jab, No Pay’ law.

    The ‘No Jab, No Pay’ law coerces parents to have their children vaccinated to access benefits. This means parents will have to have their children vaccinated with ALL the vaccine products and revaccinations on the schedule for children up to the age of five years, i.e. they are hindered from evaluating the risks and benefits of each of these medical interventions – this directly conflicts with the obligation to obtain ‘informed consent’ before the medical intervention of vaccination.

    This is extremely problematic as there are questionable vaccines on the schedule, e.g. the arbitrary second shot of live measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (when many are likely to be immune after the first dose of effective vaccine, which can be verified by antibody titre testing but this is generally not offered as an option to parents), and multiple shots of the aluminium-adjuvanted diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, which is failing, hence the call for more and more so-called ‘boosters’. And older children are being pressed to have three doses of the very controversial turbo-charged aluminium-adjuvanted HPV vaccine(s), along with yet another diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis shot.

    There is also currently persistent lobbying for the aluminium-adjuvanted GSK Bexsero meningococcal B vaccine to be added to the taxpayer-funded vaccination schedule in Australia, despite the fact this product has been rejected three times by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee due to the “multiple uncertainties in relation to the clinical effectiveness of the vaccine”.[1]

    The trashing of the right to ‘informed consent’ before a medical intervention, i.e. vaccination, is a most serious development in our liberal democracies, one which has implications for adults as well as children, with the implementation of an adult ‘immunisation’ register in Australia. And yet this major political and ethical issue, which is important internationally, is going under the radar.

    The general community is being seduced by the idea of ‘magic bullets’ to prevent disease, i.e. vaccines, but there are problems emerging with failing vaccines and adverse effects of vaccination. The possibilities for ‘unintended consequences’ abound. The long-term cumulative consequences of these excessive medical interventions, including annual flu vaccination, are unknown.

    As seen recently in the UK, with the uproar about TV presenter Melinda Messenger’s concerns about the safety of HPV vaccination, the medical establishment quickly rises to stifle any questioning of vaccination safety. The vicious pillorying of Melinda Messenger was disgraceful, including Dr Chris Steele’s arrogant and patronising attitude towards Ms Messenger.[2]

    Vaccine industry gatekeepers, such as science writer David Robert Grimes, are given platforms in the media to aggressively promote vaccine products and deride those who have concerns about these burgeoning interventions.[3] Grimes is not an ‘expert in vaccination’, he speaks with no authority in this area. Let’s have those who are accountable for vaccination policy in the frame, make them answer our questions.

    Parents are entitled to ask questions about vaccination. This recent episode with Melinda Messenger is an illustrative example of the way parents are being bullied into having numerous vaccinations and denied being properly allowed to consider the risks and benefits of these ever-increasing medical interventions, which are proving to be so lucrative for the vaccine industry.

    The medical establishment’s apparent reluctance to acknowledge the possibility of adverse events after vaccination also destroys any confidence in the post-marketing surveillance system. The voluntary reporting system is completely inadequate.

    We are facing an epidemic of gross over-vaccination – this is a massive international scandal.

    There should be an immediate moratorium on new vaccine products and an urgent review of vaccine schedules around the world. Children are being forced to have too many of these lucrative vaccine products and there may be serious long-term repercussions.

    Elizabeth Hart

    1. November 2014 PBAC Outcomes – Subsequent Decisions Not to Recommend.
    2. See for example: “HPV Debate: Melinda Messenger sparks row on This Morning as she’s accused of scare-mongering for not giving her daughter the HPV vaccine”. The Sun, 14 December 2016 and “Melinda Messenger hits back at ‘hostile’ Holly, Phil and This Morning for ‘gagging’ her during HPV vaccine debate”. Mirror, 16 December 2016.
    3. See David Robert Grimes’ contribution, as enabled by the Daily Mail, i.e. inset box in this article: “Why I stopped my little girl from having the cervical cancer jab: TV presenter Melinda Messenger is one of a number of mothers worried about the possible side effects of the HPV vaccination”. Daily Mail, published 30 November 2016, updated 2 December 2016. Also see: Grimes’ article: “We know it’s effective. So why is there opposition to the HPV vaccine?” The Guardian, 12 January 2016.

    • “Aluminum-adjuvenated”? You make that sound like it’s bad thing. All I can gather from your post is that you fear vaccines but lack sufficient understanding of their safety and effectiveness to judge them.

  • Ok, vaccines don’t cause autism. But can you at least acknowledge that vaccines can cause neurological injury? The vaccine court does hand out settlements mostly for adults as it is much easier to prove harm with adults than children. No, I am not against vaccines at all just tired of the “vaccines are perfect and never cause harm.” It’s as if we have to deny any possibility of negative side-effects or you are labeled a heretic.

    • Personally, I’ve never heard a single pro-vax person ever say “vaccines are perfect and never cause harm”.

      What they do say… and there’s a lot of evidence to back it up… is that the rate is injury is extremely low- about one-in-a-million, and that it’s far safer to get vaccinated than the alternative of not getting vaccinated.

    • The number of vaccine injuries is on the rise. Most are neurological injuries (like seizures, paralysis), severe immune reactions and even death.
      The cases reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) may be a gross under-representation; it’s estimated that less than 1% of vaccine injuries are ever reported, much less compensated.

  • There are still unanswered questions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. All medical procedures, including vaccines, come with serious health risks. Citizens should be informed properly from all angles before making decisions about medical procedures.
    Hopefully a commission will be set up to make sure if we have rigorous integrity in the vaccine process and to determine the efficacy and safety effects of vaccines. The commission should be made up of people WITH NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST in vaccine profits.
    Perhaps the first step is to address the abolishment of the National Vaccine Injury Act that was enacted in 1986 to protect pharmaceutical companies from being held liable for vaccine injuries.

    • Which questions do you have that are still unanswered? There have been literally thousands of vaccine safety and efficacy studies, and authors are required to list any COIs. Most have none.

  • And how about it Stat? Why are you blasting any attempt at investigating all sides of the vaccination issue? This is meant to be a science website, right? We don’t need another biased website, telling us the science is all in, when autism is still increasing. Maybe there is no connection to vaccination, but this is an immensely important public health issue, and it needs honesty and full disclosure, not just another ” don’t bother us you ignorant people, we are the scientists” article.

    • If you had read the many studies that show the lack of evidence for harm from vaccines, including those on any association to autism, you would see that Stat isn’t against anyone examining the scientific literature. Quite the opposite: Stat is obviously encouraging anyone capable of studying the literature to see the evidence for themselves.

  • As Mark Felt once said, follow the money. And pharma and our for-profit health care industry is all about the money.

    If the pro-vaccine lobby is so sure that vaccines are safe, then they have nothing to worry about. The truth will come out.

    The fact that they are so upset about this commission suggests that they have something to hide.

    • Exactly, poli. Let’s have some unbiased research and study. See what the results are. Not try to shut off the discussion. Will we continue to see the autism rates skyrocket until half the children in the country are autistic, and still not have any hard information? I don’t think I want to hear from Dr. Offit, a guy that got rich off vaccines. This is hardly unbiased. Do you know how much vaccine patents have brought in to CDC employees? No, I bet this is not common knowledge. And do you think this kind of financial windfall is going to lead to the CDC wanting full and complete disclosure about the unintended consequences of vaccination, if those exist?

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