Dear Mr. Kennedy,
Your anti-vaccine crusade, including the publicity stunt you have planned for Friday in Washington, D.C., may be satisfying public theater, but it is based on falsehoods that are harming public health. It’s time to stop.
Not that long ago, Americans lived in fear of infectious diseases such as polio. In the early 1950s, polio caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year. Following the introduction of vaccines in 1955 and 1963, the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s. Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States.
Your uncle, President John F. Kennedy, joined with then-Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, in “urging that every person who has not been vaccinated immediately do so with the vaccine now available.”
You could build on your family’s legacy of science-based, public health prevention. Instead, you are sowing fear and doubt at the highest levels of government by doubling down on your conspiracy theory that the use of thimerosal in vaccines causes brain disorders, including autism.
To be clear, vaccines and autism are not linked or related in any way. That has been confirmed many times over by top scientists and physicians. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other reputable, trustworthy organizations have concluded that there is no evidence supporting a link between thimerosal and any brain disorders, including autism.
Here’s just one example of this research. A 2014 meta-analysis of five cohort studies with 1.2 million children and five case-control studies with 9,920 children showed that “vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.”
Truly legitimate risk factors linked to autism do deserve our attention. A report in the December 2016 Annual Review of Public Health identified several environmental factors that work together, or that interact with genes, which can elevate a child’s risk of developing autism between two and four times. Such risk factors include older age of the father or mother; high levels of air pollution during pregnancy; and severe reactions to bacterial and viral infections during pregnancy, some of which can be prevented through vaccination.
Vaccines are among the most rigorously tested and safest medical products on the market. Before being approved for administration, vaccines undergo thorough testing by manufacturers and strict evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration. Even after a vaccine is approved by the FDA, post-market studies are often conducted to monitor safety and detect and respond to any rare adverse events.
The CDC and FDA monitor and evaluate the safety of vaccines through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, the Vaccine Safety Datalink, and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project. This national vaccine safety surveillance program helps scientists ensure that the benefits of vaccines continue to be far greater than the risks.
You insist that vaccine development is hugely profitable for pharmaceutical companies. Yet vaccines are only administered once a year — or once a lifetime. That’s nothing compared with drugs that require daily doses. In addition, vaccines are complicated to manufacture, making production challenging and so less lucrative than making other types of drugs.
In fact, pharmaceutical companies need incentives to keep producing vaccines. The government offers incentives because the economic and social benefits of vaccination are huge. A CDC model of children born in the US between 1994 and 2013 estimated that vaccination would prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes, at a net savings of $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs.
In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 90 percent of adults ages 65 and older supported a requirement that children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella before they could be enrolled in school, compared to just 8 percent who said that parents should be able to decide whether or not to vaccinate their child.
The people who support your views and take part in Friday’s demonstration shouldn’t ignore your personal hypocrisy on this issue. Your promotional website states, “I am pro vaccine. I had all of my six children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines save millions of lives.”
That about sums it up. So why are you spreading disinformation about this lifesaving intervention?
Susan Peschin is president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, D.C.