An interview with Robert Kennedy Jr. on vaccines, August 14, 2017
STAT News: An interview with Robert Kennedy Jr. on vaccines, August 14, 2017
This Q & A interview was conducted by STAT News reporter, Helen Branswell (H), with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (B) on August 14, 2017.
H: So when I had first approached you for this interview, the question I wanted to ask you related to the Vaccine Safety Commission. You had announced in January that you were going to head it, after you met with then President Elect Trump. It’s been a number of months now and there hasn’t been any public discussion. He made some comments in February about being interested in looking into autism but there hasn’t been anything else since. so we’ve been wondering, where does this stand? So I guess my first question to you is: Are you going to be heading a Vaccine Safety Commission set up by the White House or by President Trump?
B: I’ve had no discussions with the White House specifically about the Vaccine Safety Commission probably since February.
B: I’ve spoken with the White House about other issues relating to vaccine safety and I’ve had a number of follow up meetings.
H: Can I ask you who you met with?
B: Well I’ve met with high level officials in the White House and they’ve arranged meetings for me with HHS and White House officials and various agency officials including [NIH Director] Francis Collins and [NIH Principle Deputy Director] Lawrence Tabek, Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Infectious Disease, Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Developmental Health Sciences, and Dr. Diana Bianchi, the head of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Human Development.
B: And then over at FDA, I met with Peter Marks, Director of the Center for Biological Evaluation and Research (CBER) and Dr. Scott Winiecki, from the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Dr. Wiley Chambers, also from CBER, and some other officials there.
B: I can’t remember, at this moment, all of the people that we met with but I’m happy to send you a list of names.
H: And this is since the change of the administration?
B: Yeah, the White House officials and HHS officials accompanied me and arranged the meeting. I did it at their request.
H: At their request? Theirs?
H: But who is they?
B: The White House
H: Okay. All right. So you said you’ve had no discussion since February about the Vaccine Safety Commission. Do you think that…
B: Again, not specifically about the Commission.
H: Okay. Do you think that idea is dead? Do you think it’s in abeyance?
B: I don’t know. 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.
H: Okay. Do you think that there is the possibility that the Commission is going ahead but not with you on it?
B: Again, you’d have to ask the White House.
H: Okay. So you know, in February, I was doing some research in preparation for this, and I saw a story that Politico ran in February in which you had mentioned that after you made the announcement. You later spoke with the President and the two of you, I think, agreed that, and the expression used was that you’d ‘gotten out over your skis’ on this issue. Do you think you were not meant to announce it or was it perhaps that discussions internally hadn’t been finalized? What does that mean?
B: Are you saying that I spoke with President Trump, and that he—
H: It was a Politico story from February, I can send a link, that was a follow up to where this issue was going and it quotes you saying that you had talked to the President after having disclosed that this Commission was going to be set up and that there was some discussion between you, and that you, and it wasn’t clear if it was you or the two of you or the issues, had gotten out over its skis. Is that not a term that you used in relation to this issue in question?
B: Well it’s not something that the President ever said to me.
H: Okay. Had he been okay with—
B: Do you want to talk about vaccine safety or vaccine science at all?
H: 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?
B: The Commission was not my idea. I was asked to chair a Commission and I agreed that if a Commission were created, that I would do that, I would take on that task. But, you know, that’s up to the White House and how they want to handle this issue.
H: Right. Okay.
B: It wasn’t my idea. I am happy with any steps that are taken to make vaccines safer and to improve the scientific integrity of the process. And to reform the process so that vaccines are subject to the same kind of safety scrutiny and safety testing that other drugs are subjected to. We need, prior to licensing vaccines, to do gold standard safety testing like every other drug requires, before approval.
B: We need to do double blind placebo testing. We shouldn’t be able to limit safety testing on vaccines to three or four days, or a couple of months, when every other drug requires five or six years of safety testing. Because the consequences, particularly when injecting mercury or aluminum into babies, the consequences may be latent. In other words, the condition may not manifest or be diagnosed until age three or four. The current protocols, allow safety testing periods that are sometimes as short as 48 hours. Those are not going to disclose the kind of dangers that the public and the regulators ought to know about.
B: Many of the vaccines that are currently approved had five or six days of safety testing. That means that if the child has a seizure on the sixth or seventh day, it’s never seen. If the child dies [after the sixth day], it’s never seen. If the child gets food allergies or ADD or ADHD, which don’t manifest for four or five years, or autism, which usually isn’t diagnosed until age four, the regulators will never see that prior to licensing the vaccine.
H: Well, If something happens four or five years outside of an event, how do you know what event to attribute it to?
B: Well the answer to that question, of course, is double blind placebo testing. You have a control group and you have a study group. [The study group receives the drug and the control group receives an identical looking pill that is inert. Researchers then compare long term health outcomes and look for disease clusters].
H: Yes. Sir, that’s done all the time. That’s done. That is done all the time.
B: It’s not done for vaccines. It is, of course, required for other drugs but not vaccines.
H: What, double blind placebo testing? Sure it is. Sure it is.
B: It’s not required for vaccines.
H: Vaccines are tested that way all the time.
B: You’re wrong about that. It is not required for most vaccines. I know this is surprising to you and it’s shocking to most people, because people and journalists such as yourself assume that vaccines are encountering the same kind of rigorous safety testing as other drugs, including multi-year, double blind placebo tests as other drugs. But the fact is, vaccines don’t. And the reason for that is because they’re classified as “biologics”.
H: Right, but I’ve read a lot of vaccine studies. They are double blind placebo tested.
B: You’re wrong about that. They’re not required to do double blind placebo tests. Now, I don’t know of any [children’s] vaccine that actually has done true [inert placebo] double blind placebo testing. In any case, none of them have more than a few months of double blind placebo testing. This will not allow you to spot illnesses like autism that aren’t diagnosed for four or five years.
B: Second of all, in most vaccines, for example the Gardasil vaccine, they don’t use true placebos. In other words they don’t use inert placebos. For example [in the case of] Merck’s or Glaxo Smith Kline’s [HPV] Gardasil vaccines, they tested them for six months against an aluminum adjuvant that is highly neurotoxic. So if we don’t use a true placebo how can you determine whether the vaccine is safe?
H: Okay. Could we move actually back to the question I wanted to ask? I had some questions that I want to ask. It’s a Q and A. I ask the questions. That’s the way it works. You answer the questions or don’t answer if you like. I was wondering, in the time since you spoke with the president in January and were asked to chair the Vaccine Safety Commission, the senior HHS positions have been filled. They appointed Brenda Fitzgerald at CDC and Francis Collins was reappointed as Director at NIH, Scott Gottlieb to FDA and Jerome Adams as Surgeon General. All of them are on the record as supporting vaccines, and very supportive of vaccines. I was wondering if that is disappointing to you if you would have hoped for different people or people with a different mindset in those positions?
B: Well I would prefer regulators who are willing to look at the science and who are conversant with the safety science, who are familiar with the vast library of scholarly literature published and available on Pub Med which indicates that many vaccine ingredients, particularly aluminum and mercury, can pose a threat to children.
H: Right. So…
B: And as I said I’ve been having meetings with the regulators and urging them to read the literature.
H: And I did want to ask you as well, if you had any qualms about doing this work with President Trump. People who are concerned about the environment find this administration very unsettling. Given that, I was wondering if you had any qualms about working with him, because you’re so renowned as an environmentalist.
B: I don’t like President Trump’s environmental policies and I would not endorse them. I would say that the Trump administration is essentially destroying 30 years of my work on environmental issues and the work of many other people. I’ve written extensively on that and I think people understand that my position is clear, and that my work vaccine safety public health and child safety is not an endorsement of his President Trump’s environmental policy.
H: Have you made your position known to him? Have you had the chance to express those views to him?
B: Well in my initial meeting with him we had that discussion and he’s known my position for many years. Prior to his presidency I litigated against President Trump on environmental issues. I testified two weeks ago before an EPA hearing in opposition to the administration’s gutting of the Clean Water Act. I don’t think there’s any question with him or with any member of the administration that I’m opposed to Scott Pruitt and I’m opposed to walking away from Paris and I’m opposed to the subversion of the Clean Water Act, so I don’t think President Trump or anyone in the administration or anywhere in the country has any doubts about where I stand on those issues.
B: If President Trump asked me to serve on a commission on fracking or on pipelines or global warming, I would do it. If I can make improvements in child health, if I can protect American children and prevent injuries and make vaccines safer, as safe as possible, and prevent injuries to these subsets, these population subsets who are vulnerable to injuries, particularly from mercury and from aluminum, I will do whatever I can and talk to anybody that I need to, including you—
H: (laughs) Okay
B: —to improve child health, the health of American children.
H: Can I get back, and I think this will probably be my last question, you’ve mentioned mercury a lot of times. Thimerosal is not in most vaccines given to children at this point and in fact has not been in childhood vaccines at this point since 2001, I believe. You know, studies have also shown that since it has been taken out autism rates have increased which would suggest that there isn’t correlation. And that’s what most scientists would say. But why do keep talking about mercury when children aren’t getting exposed to it in a childhood vaccine?
B: That is an industry talking point. That just simply isn’t true.
B: Mercury was taken out of three pediatric vaccines, DTaP, HiB and hepatitis B in 2003 but the same year, the CDC recommended flu shots for pregnant women and for children at six months of age and during every year of life. In the past 13 years, since 2004, most flu shots were loaded with mega doses of mercury and by the way—
H: —it’s only in multi dose vials and it’s not in single vaccine that’s packaged in a syringe already, and it was never in the live, attenuated vaccines.
B: Well here’s the numbers, and the numbers change every year and Thimerosal levels have trended downward in the past five years but 2007 was typical [of the years prior to 2012]. In 2007 there were 128 million flu vaccine doses manufactured in this country, and only 11 million were Thimerosal free. Over 90% of vaccinated Americans received huge, huge doses of mercury—not “trace amounts” as the industry likes to claim. “Trace amounts” means less than one microgram. The flu vaccines contained 25 micrograms which is 25 times “trace amounts” and over 31 times EPAs safe exposure levels for an average six month old male baby and potentially hundreds of times the levels that would be safe for a growing fetus.
B: So today, in the last three or four years, that [128 million] number [of Thimerosal loaded flu shots] has been reduced to 48 million. So today there are around 48 million Thimerosal containing doses, so about a third, were loaded with mercury.
H: And when you say this year, are you talking about 2016 or 2017?
B: Yeah, the 2016-2017 flu season. So that’s 48 million people, including pregnant women and little babies who are getting mega doses of mercury. That’s a national health crisis right there. Mercury is 100 times more neurotoxic than lead. Why would you inject that into a little baby or pregnant women? It’s insane. And mercury has never been safety tested.
H: Mmm Hmm
B: So anybody who tells you that mercury is safe, the question I would ask for them is “Can you show me a study?”. If fact, William Egan, [Acting Director of the Office of Vaccines Research and Review in CBER in the FDA], testified before Congress and was asked by Committee Chairman Dan Burton “Has there every been a safety test on Thimerosal?” and he acknowledged that there has not.
H: There’s been an IOM report that concluded that there was no risk from the amount of Thimerosal in vaccines.
B: No. No. No. IOM’s 2004 report did not exonerate mercury. The only thing IOM did was look at a series of epidemiological studies that had been recently created by CDC and these papers only dealt with one issue, which was autism. So all of the other injuries, that are known to be associated with Thimerosal including ADD, ADHD, SIDS, speech delay, language delay, [OCD, anorexia, mental retardation, depression] narcolepsy, tics, allergies, sleep disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome and many others. None of those have ever been studied.
B: And IOM never claimed that Thimerosal was safe. In fact I talked to Kathleen Stratton from IOM and Marie McCormick [at Harvard School of Public Health at the time] and said “Why aren’t you looking at these other injuries?” and they said “The CDC told us not to”.
B: CDC only wanted IOM to study autism. And the reason for that is, of course, because they had created these three phony Danish epidemiological studies and one widely discredited study of American autism data. IOM based its report principally on those defective studies. IOM never, ever exonerated Thimerosal from those other injuries. That is, again, industry propaganda which you are parroting and you should not be doing that. You should be looking at the science for yourself.
B: I’m happy to sit down with you and walk through the science. I’m happy to debate anybody on the science and I can tell you, if they debate me, they will lose and it’s not because I’m a good debater. The science on this side is overwhelming.
H: Right. Ok. Ok. Thank you. I am good. I need to speak to my editors. I will send you a copy of the audio from the conversation and I will keep Freddie abreast on where things stand in terms of timing of when my story might run and I thank you for your time.
B: Thank you
H: Okay good bye