In the early days of 2017, proponents of vaccination were deeply concerned. Donald Trump, who has long espoused a debunked link between vaccines and autism, was set to enter the White House. He met with environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr., who has for years argued that vaccines can cause a range of developmental and other health conditions. Kennedy emerged to report he’d been asked to chair a commission into vaccine safety.
But seven months later, no such commission has been appointed and the crisis-mired White House has declined to say whether the plan has been shelved.
STAT contacted Kennedy to see where plans stood. He would only speak on condition that STAT publish the interview in a Q&A format. He argued that his assertions — which are disputed as a misreading of the scientific literature by many mainstream scientists — have been misquoted and misrepresented in the media.
Here is STAT’s conversation with Kennedy. It has been lightly edited, for length and readability.
The question I want to ask you relates to the vaccine safety commission that you had announced in January that you were going to head, after you met with then President-elect Trump. It’s been a number of months now, and there hasn’t been any further public announcement. And so we’ve been wondering: Where does this stand?
I’ve had no discussions specifically about the vaccine safety commission, probably since February. I’ve spoken to the White House about other issues of vaccine safety and had a number of follow-up meetings.
Can I ask you who you met with?
Well, I’ve met with high-level officials in the White House. They’ve arranged meetings for me with HHS and White House officials and agency officials. Various agency officials, including [NIH Director] Francis Collins and his deputy, Lawrence Tabak, I think. And I met with Tony Fauci, who’s at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Linda Birnbaum, who’s at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Diana Bianchi, at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH. And over at FDA I’ve met with Peter Marks, the director of [the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research] and some other officials there. I can’t remember everybody at this point, all of the people that we’ve met with.
And this is since the change of the administration?
Yeah. The White House officials and the HHS officials accompanied me. I did it at their request.
At “their” request? Who is they?
The White House.
So you said you’ve had no discussions since February about the vaccine safety commission?
Not specifically about the commission.
OK. Do you think that idea is dead? Or do you think it’s in abeyance?
You’d have to ask the White House. It may be that it’s evolved. I’ve been told that the president is still interested in this issue and that he wants me to have further meetings with the regulatory agencies and with the White House. Like I said, I have not talked to anybody in the White House about the commission.
Do you think there’s a possibility the commission is going ahead but not with you on it?
Again, you’d have to ask the White House. Do you want to talk about vaccine safety science at all?
I haven’t finished asking questions about this. Are you disappointed that so far there hasn’t been a commission set up to do what you said you were going to be doing in January?
The commission was not my idea. I was asked to chair a commission and I agreed that if the commission were created that I would do that, I would sit on it. [But] that’s up to the White House how they want to handle this issue. It wasn’t my idea. I am happy with any steps that are taken to make vaccines safer and to improve the scientific integrity around the process. To reform the process so that vaccines are subject to the same kind of safety scrutiny and safety testing that other drugs are subject to. We need to, prior to licensing vaccines, we need to do gold standard safety testing, like every other drug approval requires.
We need to do double-blind placebo testing. Because particularly when it comes to injecting aluminum or mercury into babies, the consequences may be latent. In other words, they may not manifest or diagnosed to age 3 or 4. So the current protocols, which require testing for vaccines of sometimes as little as 48 hours, are not going to disclose the kind of dangers that the public and the regulators ought to know about.
The hepatitis B vaccines that are currently approved had fewer than five days of safety testing. That means that if the child has a seizure on the sixth day, it’s never seen. If the child dies, it’s never seen. If the child gets food allergies or ADD or ADHD, which don’t manifest for four or five years or aren’t diagnosed or autism, which usually isn’t diagnosed until age 4, the regulators will never see that prior to licensing the vaccine.
If something happened four or five years out from an event, how do you know which event to attribute it to?
Well, the answer to that question, of course, is double-blind placebo testing. You have a control group and you have a study group.
Sir, that’s done all the time. That is done all the time.
It’s not required for vaccines.
Vaccines are tested that way all the time.
You’re wrong about that. It is not required for vaccines. So most of the vaccines — and I know this is surprising to you, and it’s shocking to most people, because journalists like yourself assume that vaccines are encountering the same kind of rigorous safety testing as other drugs, including multiyear double-blind placebo testing. But the fact is that vaccines don’t. And the reason for that is they’re classified as biologics.
I’ve read a lot of vaccine studies. And they are double-blind placebo tested.
No, you’re wrong about that. … But in any case, none of them have more than a few months of double-blind placebo testing, which will not allow you to spot illnesses like autism that aren’t diagnosed before five years. Second of all, in most vaccines, for example the Gardasil vaccine, they don’t use true placebos.
Could we move actually back to the questions that I wanted to ask?
[Inaudible] aluminum adjuvant that’s highly neurotoxic. So how can you know whether, if you don’t use a true placebo, how can you determine whether the vaccine is safe.
So I had some questions I wanted to ask you, and in a Q&A that’s the way it works. I ask some questions, you answer the questions or don’t answer if you like. I was wondering, in the time since you spoke to the president in January and he asked you to chair the vaccine safety commission, the senior HHS positions have been filled. All of them are on the record as supporting vaccines. I was wondering if that’s disappointing to you.
Well, I want regulators that are willing to look at the science. And who are conversant with the safety science, who are conversant with the vast scientific literature that is now published, available on PubMed, which indicates that many — particularly mercury and aluminum in vaccines — need to be reassessed. And as I said, I’ve been having meetings with the regulators to urge them to do that kind of testing.
I did want to ask you as well if you had any qualms doing this work for President Trump. His administration is taking some steps at the EPA that people who are concerned about the environment find very unsettling. Given that, I was wondering if you had any qualms about working with him, because you’re so renowned as an environmentalist.
I don’t like President Trump’s environmental policies, and I would not endorse them. I would say that President Trump’s administration is essentially destroying 30 years of my work on environmental issues, and the work of many other people. And I’ve written extensively about that. And I think people understand that my position is clear and that my work on vaccine safety and public health and child safety is not an endorsement of President Trump’s environmental policies.
Have you made your position known to him? Have you had the chance to express those views to him?
Well, in my initial meeting with him, we had that discussion. And he knows my position. And he’s known my position for many years. … I don’t think there’s any question with him or with any member of the administration that I’m opposed to [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt and I’m opposed to walking away from [the] Paris [Agreement]. … If President Trump asked me to serve on a commission on fracking or on pipelines or on global warming, I would do it.
Can I just ask — and I think this will be my last question — you’ve mentioned mercury a lot of times. Thimerosal [a mercury-based preservative] is not in most vaccines given to children at this point. And in fact has not been in childhood vaccines in the United States since 2001, I believe. You know, studies have also shown that since it’s been taken out, autism rates have increased, which would suggest that there isn’t a correlation, and that’s what most scientists say. But why do you keep talking about mercury when children aren’t getting exposed to it in childhood vaccines?
That is an industry talking point. That just simply isn’t true. Mercury was taken out of three pediatric vaccines, DTaP, Hib, and hepatitis B in 2003. But the same year it was, CDC recommended flu shots for pregnant women and for children 6 months of age and during every year of life. And for most of the past 15 years, virtually all of those flu shots [inaudible]. … Since 2004, so that would be, I guess, 13 years, most flu shots were loaded with mega doses of mercury.
Thimerosal is only in [flu vaccine packaged in] multidose vials. It’s not in vaccine that’s packaged in a syringe already and it was never in FluMist, the live attenuated vaccine.
Well, here are the numbers. And the numbers change every year. I think in 2012, there were 185 million doses of flu doses manufactured in this country. And I think fewer than 10 million were thimerosal-free. Over 90 percent had huge, huge doses of mercury. Not trace amounts as the industry likes to claim. Trace amounts means less than 1 microgram. They contain 25 micrograms, which is 25 times trace amount and over 100 times what EPA’s safe exposure levels are. … So today, in the last three or four years, that number has been reduced to 48 million.
Which number has been reduced to 48 million?
I believe this year there were 150, around 150 million flu doses manufactured and 48 million of those, or a third, were loaded with mercury.
And when you say this year are you talking about 2016-17? Or are you talking about the coming …
2016. That’s a national health crisis right there. Mercury is 100 times more toxic, neurotoxic, than lead. Why would you inject that into a little baby or pregnant women? It’s insane.
There’s been an Institute of Medicine report …
No, no. No, IOM’s 2004 report did not exonerate mercury. The only thing that IOM did is it looked at a series of epidemiological studies that had been recently created by CDC and based upon, and they only dealt with one issue, which was autism. So all of the other injuries that are known to be caused by thimerosal, including ADD, ADHD, SIDS, speech delays, language delay … none of these have ever been studied.