Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says a ‘vaccine safety’ commission is still in the works

The vocal vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is still talking with President Donald Trump’s administration about establishing a commission to look into vaccine safety, Kennedy said today at a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“I have been contacted three times by the administration since [10 January] and they tell me that they are still going forward with a commission,” Kennedy said. Kennedy did not specify who in the administration had contacted him.

Kennedy was summoned on 10 January to meet with the then–president elect and emerged from Trump Tower in New York City to tell the press that Trump had asked him to head a “vaccine safety and scientific integrity" commission. Within hours a Trump spokesperson qualified Kennedy’s statements, saying the president “is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism … however no decisions have been made.” The spokesperson added that Trump was discussing “all aspects of autism with many groups and individuals.”

Today, Kennedy added that when he met with Trump in January: “[Trump] told me he knew the pharmaceutical industry was going to cause an uproar about this. [Trump] said: ‘I’m not going to back down.’” But Kennedy did concede that “what happens within the administration is very obscure to anyone … I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.”

The White House has not responded to a request for comment on Kennedy’s new remarks.

More than 350 scientific and medical organizations, led by the American Academy of Pediatrics, wrote to Trump on 7 February, reminding him: “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines safe lives.”

Kennedy was joined at the press conference by actor Robert De Niro, another vaccine critic. The two announced that a group called The World Mercury Project is launching a $100,000 “Open Challenge to American Science Journalists (and others)” to point to any paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, and indexed in PubMed, “demonstrating that [the preservative] thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.”

Many antivaccine activists make the widely debunked claim that there is a link between thimerosal, a form of mercury that is used to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination of some vaccines, and autism; the activists also hold thimerosal responsible for other neurological disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that numerous studies have concluded that thimerosal is not dangerous in the small amounts found in some influenza vaccines, and in one formulation each of meningococcal and tetanus vaccines. Public health experts further note that although people do rarely have reactions to vaccines, their benefits in terms of saved lives and avoided illnesses have far outweighed any risks. Each year in the United States more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and between 3000 and 49,000 deaths occur from influenza-related complications. It is unclear whether any scientific study could definitively prove that any vaccine additive is always safe for all people.