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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).

  • This article might pack more of a punch if Dr. Profit (oops, Paul Offitt, vaccine-developer-millionaire) or his sidekick Dorit Reiss (pharma-shill) ever bothered to disclose their conflicts of interest. Until then, folks who have bothered to do some investigating and research? We just ignore them.

    • Eighty-four PLUS . . . that’s the number of families that have been compensated millions of dollars by the NVICP (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program) as far as vaccine/autism causation is concerned. Gag orders abound!!! But you can still google a bit about BAILEY BANKS . . . HANNAH POLING . . . etc. One-hundred-forty-plus studies showing a link as well . . . whoops guess Dorit and crew just didn’t google hard enough? Laughable. Your ship slowly listeth, shills.

    • Dr. Offit has no conflicts of interest.

      You can, of course, choose to ignore his points. Others don’t have to.

      And if you claim to have done research, can you cite studies you published, labs you worked in, or grants you were part of?

    • Vaccine court never compensated a child for vaccine induced autism and repeatedly rejected such claim. Here is what it said on the Poling case:

      When your best evidence are off topic cases from a court that on topic went the other way, it’s time to reconsider.

    • Dorit? In response to your reply at 10:28 to my post regarding conflicts of interest . . . to quote an old saying . . . YOU SHOW ME YOURS, AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE. Oh wait , I have NONE. And you?? (crickets) We’re on to you, and yours. Stop spreading the misinformation and outright lies. Some of us can still think for OURSELVES and don’t need to be compensated by Pharma-backed grants and endowed chairs at CHOP (*cough*OFFIT*cough*) SMDH

    • Barbara, you know full well Dorit has addressed the conflicts issue many times. The science is very clear and it is on D’s side and mine. Name calling and baseless accusations are kinda pathetic.

  • I have a question for Dr. Offit? Why are you not shouting out to the media, and to the entire vaccine establishment, that we need to get to the bottom of this before another child inexplicably kicks the bucket after a “routine vaccine.”

    Dr. Offit


    Between September 2008 and April 2011, we registered 23,448 vaccination contacts for children aged 42–365 days; 17,313 were for Penta and 3028 for MV (2907 co-administered with YF). During follow-up 112 children died. The female/male mortality rate ratio was 1.73 (1.11–2.70) following Penta and 0.38 (0.12–1.19) after MV (p = 0.02 for same effect). Adjusting for maternal education or weight-for-age at the time of vaccination did not change the estimates.

    Penta appears to have the same negative effects on mortality as those seen for DTP. Assessing post-vaccination mortality for boys and girls is necessary to improve the vaccination programme.

    To me, Dr. Offit- female lives matter!

    • This is another African study that does not address cause of death and background mortality rates.

      There’s nothing in it showing a link between any vaccine and the deaths, and it shows no difference between different vaccines regime, again suggesting no link to vaccines.

      Again, when your best evidence is this kind of problematic study looking at vaccines not used in the U.S., it’s good indication that the schedule in the U.S. Is very safe. If you had better evidence to attack it – or even the schedule in Africa – you would provide it.

  • Kathy: From your blog article:

    “current (2016) autism rate is 1.47-2%”

    That would be you claiming 2016 rates using 2008 data.
    1/68 = 0.0147 x 100 = 1.47

    No estimates are available past 2008. You’re misleading your readership.

  • Vaccine risk denialism is not black and white. Admitting some risks, and denying others, is still vaccine risk denialism. Working overtime to minimize the public’s perception of vaccine risk is vaccine risk denialism. Not providing all of the information on risk while obtaining a patient’s consent to vaccinate (or not) is vaccine risk denialism. Making over-arching claims such as “Vaccine are safe” and “Vaccines do not cause autism” even after the fraud and flaws have been pointed out is vaccine risk denialism. Many things cause autism. Logic allows that many factors can have the same outcome. Other causes do not rule out vaccines; indeed, knowing which other chemical exposures lead to microglial activation puts vaccines on the list of similar, not different factors.

    I’ve called for improved vaccines, safer vaccines, so we can have protection from diseases and from vaccine injury. Calling me “anti-vaccine” is incorrect, and misses the mark. In fact, if you think it through, you could call me more pro-vaccine than Dorit, or Offit. I’m convinced CDC screwed up so bad the current vaccines will have to be abandoned. They gambled, and we all lost. Safer vaccines are on the way, and those who fudged data on medieval technology to retain billion dollar contracts should be held accountable. Look up microneedle patch vaccines. True anti-vaccine individuals despise these, too. I say make the microneedles out of crystallized Vitamin E, and don’t call the vaccines so the publi knows the makers can be held accountable.
    Screen the epitopes for matches to human proteins to avoid autoimmunity.
    The sooner the better. And even then, respect the right of people to decline immunization.

    • Claiming vaccines have risks they don’t (like autism or allergies) is the hallmark of anti vaccine activists.

      Again, pointing out the evidence doesn’t show vaccines have alleged risks isn’t denial. It’s following the evidence.

      I have never seen the commenter actually suggest improvements in vaccines safety. All he does is work to convince people vaccines are bad and dangerous. Please read his comments here as an example.

      A lot of work is done on vaccines safety. It’s done by scientists and policy makers anti vaccine activists often attack.

    • I have never seen you call for vaccine safety. You want people to believe the studies you support that vaccines cause all manner of harms. I have never seen you support any actual technologies that you think might make vaccines safer. And everyone in USA, except the military, can decline any vaccine. Just because consequences may be attached to that choice (and rightly so) doesn’t mean you cannot decline them.

      “I’m convinced CDC screwed up so bad the current vaccines will have to be abandoned. ” Yes, we all know that is how you feel. You just don’t have any good evidence to support that claim.

      Why did you stop studying plant genetics and switch to vaccines?

  • Paul Offit writes above: “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.”

    Dr. Offit offers a unique opportunity: he is a vaccine scientist as well as a celebrity. I am curious as to his interpretation of the following study- first as a scientist, then as a celebrity:

    “5. Conclusions
    DTP was associated with 5-fold higher mortality than being unvaccinated. No prospective study has shown beneficial survival effects of DTP. Unfortunately, DTP is the most widely used vaccine, and the proportion who receives DTP3 is used globally as an indicator of the performance of national vaccination programs.

    It should be of concern that the effect of routine vaccinations on all-cause mortality was not tested in randomized trials. All currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis. Though a vaccine protects children against the target disease it may simultaneously increase susceptibility to unrelated infections.”

    • As Dr. Offit has commented, when the facts are arrayed against you, attack the messenger. As DR has done here. Her conspiracy theory grows hourly- if we are to believe her (and Offit) we are surrounded on all sides by know nothing Luddites who wish to see their kids dead from vaccine preventable disease because of why? Sheer stubbornness?

      Add the authors on the above study, published in 2017, to her “dangerous anti vaxxers list.

    • I expect any reader would see that I pointed to the limits of the study, and said nothing about the authors.

      Note the commenter’s inability to counter my points.

  • Dorit says: “The reason that no serious vaccine or autism scientist today accepts the claim that vaccines cause autism is that the question has been studied, examined across the world, and answered.

    Vaccines don’t cause autism, and no attempt to theorize how they could would change that data. ”

    This is Vaccine Risk Denialism at its best. She does not address or even acknowledge the rest of the science, and makes not a single defense of the serious flaws cited for the few studies used to determined that vaccines do not cause autism (the Polish study, 96 vs. 192, for example).

    She also said that IOM didn’t find 17/22 studies flawed, they were just not the preferred study design. Once again, she is misleading the readers of these comments. Here is the relevant text from IOM:

    “The committee reviewed 22 studies to evaluate the risk of autism after the administration of MMR vaccine. Twelve studies (Chen et al., 2004; Dales et al., 2001; Fombonne and Chakrabarti, 2001; Fombonne et al., 2006; Geier and Geier, 2004; Honda et al., 2005; Kaye et al., 2001; Makela et al., 2002; Mrozek-Budzyn and Kieltyka, 2008; Steffenburg et al., 2003; Takahashi et al., 2001, 2003) were not considered in the weight of epidemiologic evidence because they provided data from a passive surveillance system lacking an unvaccinated comparison population or an ecological comparison study lacking individual-level data. Five controlled studies (DeStefano et al., 2004; Richler et al., 2006; Schultz et al., 2008; Taylor et al., 2002; Uchiyama et al., 2007) had very serious methodological limitations that precluded their inclusion in this assessment. Taylor et al. (2002) inadequately described the data analysis used to compare autism compounded by serious bowel problems or regression (cases) with autism free of such problems (controls).
    DeStefano et al. (2004) and Uchiyama et al. (2007) did not provide sufficient data on whether autism onset or diagnosis preceded or followed MMR vaccination.” Page 145

    For Dorit’s claim to be true, IOM would have written “we restricted our consideration of randomized clinical trials” or similar.

    ALL of Dorit’s posts here, and elsewhere, are clearly circumspect. If she is willing to so grossly misrepresent an IOM/NAS report, what else is she willing to mislead any reader about, regardless of the consequences to the population?

  • Kathy, your logic is seriously flawed. Under US law, all new chemicals must all be tested to see if they are carcinogens. Cancer predates ALL new chemicals. That does not mean chemicals developed since the ancient Greeks described cancer cannot cause cancer. So, logic allows that MMR vaccine + fever can cause both Tylenol intake and autism.

    • Since we have many studies showing us MMR does not cause autism, then we don’t need to study that anymore. As for cancer, again toxicity is based on dose. I would refer you to the EPA IRIS database for the toxicity studies and dose information.

      For example, too much formaldehyde is known to be a cancer risk but nothing in vaccines is even close to that level. There is more formaldehyde in our food and our own bodies than any vaccines. The dose makes the poison.

  • Contrary to the vaccine risk denialist’s assertions, the study of vaccine risk is not robust. Weak, retrospective correlation studies are used for important questions, leaving the results to correlation. Any negative result is welcomed, and any positive result of risk is rejected as “mere” correlation. That means correlation is an insufficient test of the hypothesis. The resulting lack of evidence is then misused as evidence of lack of risk. In my objective inquiry into the vaccine science, I’ve seen this over and over. “Pharmcovigilence” is retrospective study on entire populations – all unconsented for a clinical study, of course – and being weak tests, they are not rigorous. Retrospective studies are amenable to manipulation (as we have seen in spades on the vaccine/autism question). The MO is to analyze the data once, find an association, then work (in some cases for four years) to find ways to make the association go away. There is no denying this, it’s all over the studies. Who “corrects for” birth weight, gestational age, age of mother, and income of mother in the same analysis? These are highly collinear variables. CDC contracted data analysts, that’s who. Who writes emails with the subject line “it just won’t go away?” CDC contracted data analysts, that’s who. Verstraeten, that’s who WIth every post they make, vaccine risk denialists reveal themselves as incapable of defending CDC’s so-called vaccine safety “science”. Readers will be interested in knowing that CDC has instructed medical doctors to address questions of vaccine risk by changing the topic to vaccine efficacy – thus denying patients their legal right to informed consent. Vaccines risk denialism prevents any calls for making vaccines safer. But it’s unsustainable. It’s time for accountability.

    • Did you not just post “NO conflicts of interest should be tolerated among those doing the funding, science, or review the studies for publication?” And now you link to Safe Minds, which has incredible bias, being completely devoted to connecting vaccines to autism. Hm.

      Please link to the page on the CDC website where they tell doctors to change risk to efficacy.

      Why are you so fixated on CDC when autism and vaccine science is international? Even in USA, there are many institutions researching both.

    • Several things show this comment incorrect. First, there are acknowledged risks of vaccines. For example, ITP is rarely caused by MMR, intussusception by rotavirus vaccines.

      If an association is there, studies find it.

      Second, the studies come from all around the world and different governments monitor vaccines. To hide a risk you would need a global conspiracy – and to assume all countries, including those with national health insurance, are complicit at hiding risks to their people and willing to promote harmful vaccines. That’s implausible on its face.

      Third, the claim correlation isn’t causation refers to a situation where the correlation is based on anecdotes or is likely spurious – again, valid correlations are treated as evidence of potential causal links.

      But it’s pretty clear that while correlation can be spurious and you need to check, repeated lack of correlation shows no link.

      There’s no contradiction between saying correlation doesn’t always show causation and pointing out that no correlation is strong evidence there’s no causal link.

      Scientists world wide agree that there is much evidence on vaccines risks, and they’re small – and don’t include autism, allergies or SIDS, for example.

      There’s every reason to take that seriously.

      And see:

  • Kathy, I did not cite ONE study. I cited SEVEN. As I said, vaccine risk denialists have a hard time. Science has corroborated the vaccine/autism link in many ways, including the MMR+Tylenol = ASD risk link. I’m not the cherry-picker, that’s the CDC. I brought forward the science CDC has ignored to balance the equation. The cherries they left behind. You know this. If you trust CDC and CDC alone, you have to reject MUCH more science then CDC claims supports their position. I didn’t do that. They did. Ask yourself “Why have I never seen CDC address the thousands of studies that point to the biological plausibility of vaccines contributing to autism risk”? Why indeed. Why did IOM reject 17/22 studies, including the now infamously fraudulent Destefano et al (2004) on-time vs. delayed MMR study, for which they cherry-picked the results they believed (Destefano to Sharyl Attikisson, pers. comm.). They have never justified the need to exclude patients without birth certificates, but the effect was to reduce the sample size, thus causes a decrease in statistical power. There is no legitimacy in their vaccine safety “science” from CDC.

    • The studies cited include studies that have nothing to do with mmr and one study on pregnant women.

      It’s not a list of autism/mmr studies.

      When claiming studies support a claim the studies do need to be on point.

      The IOM explained why it was not using the studies. In 12 it’s because the study design isn’t their preferred one, not because of flaws.

      Doesn’t negate these large population level studies that showed mmr doesn’t cause autism.

    • I saw you list of seven studies. I addressed them all. I said autism predates tylenol; Therefore, it is not the cause.

      Hate to break it to you but autism and vaccine science is about more than the CDC.

      You need to ask the IOM why they rejected those studies, not me.

      The 2004 DeStefano study is fine.

      That whistleblower nonsense really needs to just die. That was debunked more than three years ago.

  • DR writes: “If, as a doctor, you misled your patients into not protecting their children, that’s very, very problematic. I hope none of their children are harm because of your failure, and that if any is harm, they sue.”

    So DR is now giving medical advice as well as legal advice. If anyone experiences vaccine harm as a result of listening to DR’s medical advice- don’t even think about suing her. The Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 gives her blanket immunity.

    • I see no medical advice given. And NCVIA section 300-21aa explains how you can sue pharma or your doctor, after you go thru VICP. The most famous example of someone suing pharma is Bruesewitz v Wyeth. They sued Wyeth after they lost in VICP and they lost again, this time in Supreme Court. You may also be aware that the Hazelhurst family is working with RFKjr to sue their child’s pediatrician for vaccine injury after they lost both their VICP case and their lawsuit against pharma.

    • Pointing out that misleading patients intonot vaccinating is failing a doctor’s duty isn’t medical advice.

      I hope most people agree that misleading people into not protecting their children from disease is wrong. It’s a little dismaying some don’t.

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