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When people misrepresent facts on the record, journalists are in a tough spot — especially when that information can be harmful.

Which brings me to STAT’s recent interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., conducted by Helen Branswell. STAT wanted to interview Kennedy about his claim in January 2017 that Donald Trump would soon appoint him to head a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Seven months had passed since Kennedy had made the claim and no announcement had been made. STAT wanted to find out where things stood.

Branswell began her interview by asking Kennedy eight different times and in eight different ways where things stood on his commission. Each time, he failed to confirm or deny whether the White House was about to appoint him.


That clearly wasn’t what Kennedy wanted to talk about. Instead, he wanted to talk about his belief that mercury in vaccines is poisoning America’s children and that no one in the federal government seems to care. By insisting that the interview be conducted in the question-and-answer format, Kennedy effectively tied STAT’s hands, which had to print what he said without editorial comment or opposing views.

I feel compelled to oppose Kennedy’s claims.


During the interview, Kennedy said that some babies were being injected with 25 micrograms of ethylmercury, which is part of a preservative called thimerosol that is used in multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine. He claimed that amount to be “100 times” greater than the amount considered to be safe.

As an environmentalist, Kennedy should know that mercury is a natural part of the Earth’s crust. As a consequence, methylmercury (environmental mercury) is contained in water and anything made from water, like breast milk and infant formula. The human body eliminates ethylmercury from vaccines far more efficiently than it eliminates naturally occurring methylmercury.

Babies typically ingest about 360 micrograms of methylmercury during the first 6 months of life, well before they will ever receive their first dose of influenza vaccine. If the 25 micrograms of ethylmercury in vaccines is 100 times greater than what Kennedy claimed is safe, then simply by living on Earth, by 6 months of age babies will have ingested an amount of mercury that is 1,440 times greater than Kennedy’s safety limit.

According to Kennedy’s calculations, all of us are massively intoxicated with mercury. The only way to avoid this would be to move to another planet.

Kennedy also said that he wanted to ensure “that vaccines are subject to the same kind of safety scrutiny and safety testing that other drugs are subject to.” In fact, vaccines are subjected to greater scrutiny than drugs. Much greater. For example, the CDC spends tens of millions of dollars every year on the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a system of linked computerized medical records from several major health maintenance organizations that represents about 7 million Americans, 500,000 of whom are children. Nothing like this exists on the drug side. Frankly, if a Drug Safety Datalink existed, the problem with Vioxx as a cause of heart attacks might have been picked up much sooner.

Kennedy said, “We need to, prior to licensing vaccines, do gold standard safety testing, like every other drug approval requires. We need to do double-blind placebo testing.” Branswell knew that the FDA does require placebo-controlled trials before licensure. So she pushed back. “Sir, that’s done all the time,” she said. “That is done all the time.”

Branswell was right. Here’s an example of the kind of testing that vaccines are put through. One of the currently licensed vaccines against rotavirus was tested in a placebo-controlled, prospective, 11-country, four-year trial of more than 70,000 infants before being approved. That’s fairly typical of most pre-licensure trials. But STAT was stuck having to report Kennedy’s remarks as is, even though Branswell knew they were false. That was the deal. The interview had to be printed without contradiction.

Perhaps most outrageous was Kennedy’s claim that “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.” Safety monitoring for the hepatitis B vaccine, like all vaccines tested before being licensed, involved determining side effects in the vaccinated and unvaccinated group for weeks after each dose. Indeed, some subsets of vaccinated individuals have been monitored for 30 years after hepatitis B vaccination.

Throughout the interview, Kennedy never adequately addressed the new commission. Creating such a commission doesn’t make sense to me for two main reasons.

First, a vaccine safety commission already exists. It’s called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staffed by epidemiologists, microbiologists, virologists, statisticians, molecular biologists, and clinicians, the CDC supervises the Vaccine Safety Datalink, which I described earlier. Whenever a new vaccine is licensed, this system quickly determines who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t and detects any side effects that might be occurring more frequently in the vaccinated group.

Second, a commission for scientific integrity also already exists. Independent of the CDC, it’s called the Office for Research Integrity, and is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s unfortunate that our culture, and our media, sometimes give celebrities a chance to comment without opposition on subjects about which they are often misinformed. It’s invariably the listener or reader who suffers this advice. Maybe journalists could at the very least add a cigarette-style caution to interviews like the one that STAT did with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Something like “CAUTION: Reading this article might be dangerous to your health.”

Paul A. Offit, M.D., is a professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His most recent book is “Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong” (National Geographic Press, April 2017).

  • James, why did you switch from studying plant genetics to vaccines? Why did you leave your University appointment? One of your fb profiles says you have MS. Does that have anything to do with all of this?

  • Kathy wrote: “The tapes are not valid. They were never authenticated by Dr Thompson.”
    This is incorrect. He has issued two statements confirming that his co-authors omitted the results showing positive association between on-time MMR and autism in African American males and in so-called “isolated” autism – cases in which there are no co-morbid conditions.

    Then CDC blocked him from testifying:

    Readers of these comments should really listen to each and every word Thompson said to Hooker. Especially how over-analyzing the data was a done as matter of routine across many studies.

    • Dr Thompson never authenticated the tapes nor the published transcripts. Not sure why that is hard for to get. So, the book about the tapes as well as the tapes as well as what was used in Vaxxed are all not valid sources. That means that nothing in those tapes can be taken as truly Dr Thompon’s words. There could be editing involved. I have no doubt that they are highly edited.

    • Doris is right about the CDC not having to allow Thompson to testify in a state action. Dr Thomas Friedan MD utilized his position as head of the CDC and blocked Thompson from testifying as by law he had the right to do so. It does not mean Thompson was not claiming he was blowing the whistle on the MMR / Autism connection. It only means he did not testify that his original claims to Hooker were accurate. He did state, And Hooker recorded it and it can be heard when you play the trailer to VAXXED, that Black boys get autism 2.5 times more often than white boys when given the MMR vaccine on schedule before the age of 3. You can deny these findings all you want Dorit but it’s out there and we will not let your ceaseless posts dissuade us from letting everyone know it.
      Did you make some good money tonite blogging.?

    • Yes, Thompson was concerned about a clearly spurious result in African American children. It was clearly spurious because it went away after proper controls were added, contradicted other studies, and made no biological sense.

      In fact, in most studies, rates of autism diagnoses in African Americans are lower, not higher, than in other races.

      Here is a helpful explanation.

  • Dorit provided links to references claiming that if we ignore all the studies on HPV safety, look, these people studying “millions” of patients around the world found the vaccine to be safe. So I visited the link.

    The very first adverse event mentioned was ADEM. The conclusion?

    “The epidemiologic evidence is insufficient or absent to assess an association between HPV vaccine and ADEM.”

    Which means insufficient data, meaning “we don’t have enough data”, meaning “we can’t judge this question with present data”.

    “No evidence” does not mean “Safe”. It means “We won’t know until Science is done to help us answer the question”.

    In other words, an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    The serious flaw that rules throughout vaccine “science” abuses ignorance (lack of data, lack of science) as knowledge (no evidence = there must be no association).

    If this were correct, there would never need to be any safety studies on any drug. Just don’t do the science, and claim the drug is safe.

    Well, that’s not science. Intention abuse of this logic flaw is another example of fraud.

    And millions of people suffer the consequences.

    Thousands of death due to HepB in the NICU occur every year and are dismissed. CDC is pushing vaccines into pregnancy now, including TdaP, without sufficient evidence of safety. CDC admitted there was insufficient safety data, and said that ACIP “believed” that it would be safe. the use of TDaP during pregnancy was recommended by CDC in 2013 – before, even as they admitted, sufficient safety testing was available (CDC, 2013). In review of one study it is recommendation, CDC reported that fever was observed in 2.4%–6.5% of recipients of a Tdap booster (indicating increased risk of neurodevelopmental issues, per maternal immune activation), and while those rates were similar to controls, they noted that
    “Safety data on use of Td during multiple pregnancies have not been published”, and yet they recommend TDaP every pregnancy, every time, citing that
    “ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) believes the potential benefit of preventing pertussis morbidity and mortality in infants outweighs the theoretical concerns of possible severe adverse events.” (emphasis added).
    Two studies based on the VSD database excluded women who experience spontaneous abortions from adverse events due to difficulty in obtaining dates of those events. They also excluded many other types of women. A review subsequently cited those studies but made no reference to the exclusionary criteria. Aluminum is associated with spontaneous abortion (Karakis et al., 2014).
    Karakis, I et al., 2014. Association Between Prenatal Exposure to Metals and Neonatal Morbidity. Journal Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A Current Issues Volume 77, 2014 – Issue 21
    Another study published since CDC’s premature recommendations (Petousis-Harris et al., 2016) excluded some women who had given birth prior to the study, but not others.
    After admitting there is no science to support this knowledge claim in 2013, CDC provided the non-sequitur conclusion that “no excess risk (exists) for severe adverse events for women receiving Tdap with every pregnancy” (CDC, 2013).
    So how do we know whether TdAP use in multiple pregnancies is associated with increased risk of fetal deaths?
    And herein we see the same lack of ethics, and logical fallacies that CDC has been using since 2004 to have vaccines approved. The use of an absence of evidence as evidence of absence –right after admitting that the study available in 2013 was too small to disallow rare serious adverse events – belies an approval bias that reaches outside of the realm of science.
    Perry et al (2017) reported that 3% of women who received TDaP during a pregnancy were not likely to accept another Tdap during subsequent pregnancies due to responses to the first dose. However, they also noted that maternal reactions following receipt of Tdap are common: two-thirds of the study population had noteworthy negative reactions.
    In another study, Layton et al. (2017) observed 1 case of post-immunization anaphylaxis, and 12 cases of maternal encephalopathy (all post- delivery), as well as chorioamnionitis and postpartum hemorrhage following TDaP vaccination during pregnancy, and the authors called for further study. Two cases of optic neuritis have been reported after TDaP vaccination during pregnancy (Cabrera-Maqueda et al., 2017).
    The full cost of TDaP vaccination during pregnancy in terms of both maternal fetal adverse events is unknown due to the exclusion of individuals who were likely to experience issues and insufficient consideration of fetal mortality. Obesity and other health issues are known after fever during pregnancy. A further risk may be waiting for fetuses in women who have received TDaP vaccination on the basis of CDC recommendation. When one reads that Henderson et al., (2014) recommend the use of low-dose aspirin to treat preclampsia, one wonders what Reye’s syndrome in utero looks like.

    No one can produce a study that shows that vaccines in the NICU are safe. If anyone thinks they can, please share the study. Otherwise, we need to ban vaccination in the NICU and become responsible scientists and ask why so many babies end up in the NICU in the first place?

    • SIDS and IMR are at all time lows in USA. Vaccines cut the risk of sids by 50%. IMR fell 15% in last ten years. Those facts shoot a big giant hole in your idea that hep b vaccine is killing infants. The more we vax, the less babies die.

      As for ADEM, please link to which hpv study mean.

    • “Obesity and other health issues are known after fever during pregnancy.” Are you implying that fever during pregnancy can cause obesity? That makes no sense.

      “When one reads that Henderson et al., (2014) recommend the use of low-dose aspirin to treat preclampsia, one wonders what Reye’s syndrome in utero looks like.” Do you have a better solution so women do not die from preclampsia complications?

    • A. ADEM is so rare, and cases after vaccines even more rare, so it’s impossible to rule out or establish causation.

      However, it is, again, extraordinarily rare. And much more common after an infection than after vaccines. Even if there was a link, it’s still a very small risk and does not undermine a vaccine being safe.

      Note the speaker is wrong in his next claim, that there is a claim of no link. The conclusion was not enough evidence.

      B. The speaker ignored most of the studies.

      C. The author then made an unsupported claim that hepatitis B vaccines kill babies in NICU.
      There is safety data about hepatitis B vaccines. It shows nothing of the sort.

      Wanting to believe vaccines are bad is not data. And not a good basis to claim vaccines kill babies or to argue against protecting NICU babies from diseases.
      There is

    • Generally, the speaker seems to make two errors.
      A. Assuming he can conclude vaccines have risks with no good evidence to show it.

      B. Assuming that in the risk calculation only risks from vaccines matter. For example, he gives no weight to the fact that pertussis and hepatitis b are dangerous in infants, in different ways. Protecting against them doesn’t figure in the math.

  • CWebb would like to know why I’m so “angry”.

    I’ll admit I’m rather infuriated at the way CDC and individuals contracted by CDC to conduct so-called vaccine safety “science” parade pseudoscience as Science, given Science a bad name.

    Here, for your arm-chair psychoanalysis:

    Re: Books, all proceeds from books at the conferences I’ve run were donations to IPAK. This is how Offit justifies his COIs with his books, btw.

    • Pseudoscience is a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method so nothing about the huge body of immunization science meets the definition.

      I am sure Dr Offit has his tax paper work very organized. Look forward to reading IPAKs, when you finally get that non profit status. You will be required to publish it, you know.

    • Yes, Dr. Offit donates all his book proceeds to charity. How are those COIs?

      You seem personally upset with the experts speaking up for vaccines and for protecting children from disease.

    • James, the jig is up. You’ve been outed. Outside of your twitter echo chamber where you can block people who are exposing you, you simply can’t hang.

      I would say quit while you’re behind but I think we are far past that point.

      My advice to you is to stay in your bubble where your sheep will worship your every word and never fact check your misinformation.

      This entire comment thread proves when you encounter smarter & more qualified and knowledgable people than you are & aren’t able to block them, you simply get exposed. Badly.

      If word of this gets out it may hurt your book sales. Take my advice kid and get out while you can.

  • Also I never implied how you ate.i just asked who was funding you, what your salary was, and how it was funded. All standard questions for a PA nonprofit. Also I requested if you were paid honorarium or consulting fees above and beyond your salary and who paid those. Transparency is necessary when asking for donations and accounting of what those donations are utilized for. As stated previously you have a fiscal interest in book sales published by the sample publishing company as Kennedy. Neither organizations have fiscal financial statements easily accessible for donors to review, and yet both claim nonprofit status.

  • Seizures after MMR – “MMR vaccine increases the risk of febrile seizures during the first two weeks after immunisation, when fever commonly occurs, but does not increase the risk of later epilepsy (limited scientific evidence).”
    Vaccines to Children: Protective Effect and Adverse Events: A Systematic Review [Internet].
    Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment.
    Stockholm: Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment (SBU); 2009 Feb. SBU Yellow Report No. 191.

    MDs try to convince parents that seizures following vaccination is “normal”. Seizure is classified as a “moderate” adverse event by CDC.

    Failure to treat seizure with medical intervention is medical neglect.

    Reader, this statistician’s experience with VAERS data on HepB adverse events is eye-opening:

    The data available to IOM was too limited (low power) to address the question:

    “The relative risk of seizure following administration of hepatitis B within 21 days of birth was 0.18 (95% CI, 0.02–1.6) and following administration of hepatitis B on the day of birth or day after birth was 0.22 (95% CI, 0.02–2.19). The authors concluded that hepatitis B vaccination does not increase the risk of seizure in children, but noted the analysis had limited power to assess this association.”

    Negative results due to low statistical power don’t count as evidence for, or against the hypothesis. EVER.

  • Again you hosted a conference where your publisher provided registrants with copies of books by you and Kennedy. That doesn’t seem like a conflict? The more books they sell associating them with supposed conferences the more both make.

    I’m sorry you have an issue with a clinician, who treats patients that earns a salary and can afford nice things. It’s sounds like you are possibly jealous of his expertise in infectious diseases, including HPV. I like prevention of cancer. I like medical doctors that have expertise and are well versed utilizing research and decades of clinical care. I’m sorry how many humans have you treated and how many agency funded projects were you PI? Checked reporter, didn’t find anything associated with your name. Hard to keep academic appointments when you are attacking clinical faculty with a robust sponsored projects portfolio while you have little or none. Is that why you are so angry?

  • Whoever claimed that IPAK donations allow me to eat at fancy restaurants must not be familiar with my favorite PA-area chain restaurant, “Eat-n-Park”, which I visit on occasion, mostly when family and friends visit or are passing through.

    Decide for yourself:

    The implications that I live high on the hog are outlandish, since I’ve sold two properties in two years to pay the bulk of my bills. Meanwhile, Dr. Harrison drives his BMW in great comfort, pushing HPV vaccine on unwitting 11-year old boys and girls entering seventh grade. Since 21/22 HPV studies used aluminum hydroxide as “placebo”, there is no credible safety data on HPV vaccines. The control placebo for the HPV vaccine (antigen + adjuvant) is saline. Use of the adjuvant only tests the safety of the antigen (antigen + adjuvant) vs. (antigen). 21 studies on HPV safety have been a complete waste of time. The single study that used saline found injuries in the first round of HPV, removed the girls who were injured from the study, effectively screening round 2 and round 3 from girls who were at risk. They then vaccinated all girls in the control group, as well, preventing any long-term health differences.

    Vaccine Risk Denialists will claim that aluminum is somehow the correct placebo. They will claim that aluminum hydroxide has been thorough tested and is considered “safe”. I’ve already shared that 850 mcg of aluminum used in vaccines is determined by its effectiveness as an adjuvant, not safety studies. Any Vaccine Risk Denialists who want to claim that aluminum has been thoroughly tested (vs saline, in humans) should cite the imaginary studies that they rest their claims upon.

    Logic clearly leads objective minds to the correct conclusion. The vaccine is the experimental unit in question, not the antigen.

    So, we will wait for (HPV vaccine) vs. (Saline) studies with long-term follow-up. Prospective randomized clinical trials will do. Extramural funded, not involving anyone with any COIs with Pharma.

    • This isn’t about amounts. Dr. Harrison has a salary unrelated to grants, and does not depend on those old grants for his livelihood. And he’s transparent about his funding.

      Again, don’t throw those stones when you live in a glass house.

      Experts do agree AAHS – used for decades in vaccines before HPV, and a well known quantity – is a valid control.

      Even if we ignored the testing of the original vaccine in clinical trials over ten years in close to 30,000 and the additional testing of gardasil 9, in the 10 years HPV vaccines are on market studies have been conducted all over the world looking at millions of young women, comparing those who got the vaccine to those who don’t.

      They found the vaccine to be incredibly safe.

      That’s the data.

    • No one implied you live “high on the hog.” But you are complaining about conflicts of interest in studies you don’t like when your research project is rife with conflicts, the most obvious of which is that it is not a no-profit yet and thus donations to IPAK are not tax deductible. And, any non-profit should be 100% transparent about what donations fund and how much people involved get paid. IPAK does no such thing. Don’t you see that is hypocritical? You are complaining about COIs but you are not revealing yours?

      And continuing to call us “Vaccine Risk Denialists” is irrational when none of us deny vaccines have risks.

      Here are some HPV vaccine studies done with saline placebo

  • As stated, as of July 1, 2012 he no longer received any monies for serving on any advisory boards or consulting for pharma. Really, you seem to have some type of personal issue with him. You know as well as I that paper was submitted and accepted within the previous year. You also know that the disclosure is for the duration of the research.

    ” Received: October 19, 2011; Accepted: February 3, 2012; Published: March 14, 2012″

    I’m sorry you have an issue with expert infectious disease medical doctors at your former institution.

    What is your level of clinical care in infectious diseases, and preventive care of cancer in humans. I mean I comprehend that our biostats and bioinformatics core is associated with most research projects performed at an institutions cancer center, etc. yet our biostatisticians would never claim expertise in infectious diseases nor an extensive background in clinical care in patients.

    You also did not answer if you are paid honorarium or consulting fees by organizations, which organizations, and what exactly your salary is and who pays for it. You held a conference in the last year or so, who paid for your speakers? Do you work for free? Provide opinion for free?

    • My own COIs include that I do consult on vaccine injury cases and provide expert opinion.

      The conference was fantastic. The conference fees paid for the speakers.

      We work for a living.

  • Katie said”The CDC lead scientist Dr. William Thompson in researching a link between the MMR and autism came forth as a whistle blower in 2014/15. ” Correct.

    Doubting readers can hear Dr. Thompson reveal all to Dr. Hooker here:

    Vaccine Risk Deniers will attempt to say there is no whistle to blow. 3, 2, 1…

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