A hearing on a bill that would bar unvaccinated children from public schools and daycare in Washington state brought out hundreds of spectators, a panel of local doctors—and notorious, carpet-bagging anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
The Pacific Northwest is in the grips of a measles outbreak that has already sickened 52 people in Washington and four in Oregon, nearly all of them children. Health officials say the spread of the highly contagious disease—which had been all but eradicated in the United States—is being fueled by parents, sometimes with the approval of their doctors, who refuse to immunize their children.
In January, lawmakers in Olympia introduced a bill, HB1638, they hope will stem the growth of measles and other communicable diseases that can be prevented with vaccines.
Enter Kennedy, nephew of a U.S. president, attorney, author, and an environmental activist who believes vaccines are dangerous—he’s called them “a holocaust”—and that drug makers, the government, and the press are in cahoots to hide that.
Speaking before the state legislature’s health committee, RFK Jr. did not tone down the rhetoric, seeming to suggest passage of the bill would go down in history.
“Is it this country’s Nuremburg Agreement? Oslo Agreement? Do we want to force parents to risky medical interventions without consent?” he asked. “Will mandating this vaccine cause more harm than good?”
He spat out a bunch of numbers that were debunked in a post-hearing press conference by State Health Commissioner John Wiesman, who supports the measure.
As members of the audience sighed, he trotted out his conspiracy theory.
“The cure for most measles is Vitamin A. We do not know the risk profile of MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] vaccines. That is deliberate,” he said. “The MMR vaccine act was passed in 1986 in a gold rush of removing liability from those [vaccine] companies. No matter how egregious, they can’t be sued. I got three vaccinations. I have seven children with 72 mandatory vaccinations.”
Kennedy then began listing diseases he claimed are—but which multiple studies have shown are not—connected to vaccinations.
“ADD, ADHD, speech delay, autism, food allergy, autoimmune diseases,” he went on. “Prior to 1986, 12 percent of kids in this country had chronic disease. Today it’s 54 percent.”
A woman’s voice broke in. “Get to the point please, sir.”
“Vaccinations are not required…” he said in a final breath, “...they are not required to do double-blind placebo studies. This vaccination [MMR] never underwent safety testing.”
In fact, the MMR has undergone double-blind safety testing; one 1986 study involving twins found that the vaccine was not harmful.
The hearing also heard from three other vaccine skeptics: an Illinois doctor, a California researcher who believes his son was injured by vaccines, and a NYU law professor.
Brian Hooker, the researcher, said he has spent the past decade researching “the epidemiology around vaccine injury” and claimed that even a 100 percent vaccination rate would not eradicate measles.
“All this [legislation] will do is alienate parents and lead to an exodus from school systems,” he said.
Four people who support the bill also testified: the head of the Washington chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; the doctor leading the response to the outbreak in Clark County; a parent who lives in the district at the epicenter; and a representatives of the Washington State Medical Association.
Wiesman, who also spoke to the committee, said the bill was “about safe schools and vulnerable children … in the midst of a preventable outbreak.”
At a press conference a couple later, Wiesman repeated said that while vaccination rates in the state might seem seemed high—93 percent—they were not the 95 percent needed to achieve herd immunity.
He said the rates are climbing up, suggesting some anti-vaxxers had become pro-vaccine once they realized their children could contract measles.
“This time of year last year, we had 200 people a week come in for a measles vaccination,” he said. “Starting Jan. 13, that was 644. The following week it was 1073. It was 1002 last week.
“Clearly, when people see an issue here that they feel threatened by, they are willing to get vaccinated.”