On Feb. 17, 2017, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Robert De Niro held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Among those joining them was Del Bigtree, producer of the movie Vaxxed.1 The conference was moderated by investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, host of the Sunday TV news program Full Measure.2
The conference focused on the issue of vaccine safety, specifically as it relates to controversial ingredients in vaccines such as the ethylmercury preservative known as thimerosal and, more broadly, to the alleged link between thimerosal containing vaccines and autism. Although the amount of mercury in vaccines has been reduced since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly asked vaccine manufacturers in 1999 to remove mercury from all vaccines given to children, ethylmercury in varying amounts remains in some influenza, meningococcal, DT/Td and adult Tetanus vaccines.3
On Jan. 10, Mr. Kennedy was reportedly asked by then President-elect Trump if he would be willing to head up a special commission to investigate the safety of vaccines.4
According to Mr. Kennedy, who said he agreed to lead the initiative, the purpose of the commission would have a broad mandate: “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.”5 While the commission has not been formally approved or announced by the new Administration, Mr. Kennedy has said he remains in communication with White House staffers on the matter and is “trading documents about what the commission would look like.”5
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.6
During the press conference, Mr. Kennedy, who is chairman of a new organization he founded, the World Mercury Project (WMP), announced on behalf of the WMP a $100,000 challenge with a “goal of stopping use of highly toxic mercury in vaccines.” A press release issued by the WMP stated:
Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, is still in 48 million U.S. flu vaccines each year, tetanus toxoid, meningococcal vaccines and, in massive doses, in the pediatric vaccines given to 100 million children across the developing world. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) review published last month found that the ethylmercury in thimerosal is as profoundly neurotoxic as the heavily regulated methylmercury in fish.6
Under the terms of the challenge, the WMP will…
pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can find a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.7
Now, it is important to read the wording of the challenge carefully. The money would be awarded in exchange for the production of evidence in a “peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines” that are currently being given to “American children and pregnant women.”7
The challenge is very specific. Mr. Kennedy is voicing concern about children and fetuses continuing to be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury when they or their gestating mothers are given thimerosal containing vaccines, even though the CDC stated in 2001 that thimerosal was “removed from or reduced in all vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and under, manufactured for the U.S. market.”8
Predictably, Mr. Kennedy’s challenge sparked the immediate appearance of numerous articles and opinions published by in the mainstream media lambasting it. There’s the one in Gizmodo by Kristin V. Brown headlined “No, We Don’t Need a Bullshit Vaccine ‘Safety Challenge'”9 Then there’s Andrea Peyser’s “Everyone needs to ignore RFK Jr.’s misinformed anti-vax claims” opinion piece in the New York Post.10 There are plenty more, but you get the idea.
Perhaps the most entertaining opinion, however, has to be the one voiced by pediatrician Daniel Summers, MD in The Washington Post. The headline boldy claims, “The evidence for vaccine safety is abundant. That will be $100,000, please.”11
First, let’s get something straight right off the bat. One should always be circumspect about any article about vaccines written by a pediatrician. Why? Because pediatricians, as well as medical doctors in general, actually know very little about how vaccines affect the human immune system, brain, and microbiome. Apart from learning the vaccine schedule and memorizing the CDC’s mantra that vaccines are safe and effective and that serious vaccine reactions causing injury or death are so rare the incidence cannot be measured, doctors receive almost no education on vaccine science in medical school.
So, when Dr. Summers writes, “It’s nearing two decades since I graduated from medical school, and in that span of time I’ve immunized thousands of patients,” that statement has little or no bearing on his knowledge or level of expertise about infectious diseases or vaccine safety and effectiveness.11
Further, when he writes, “Not once have I encountered a case where those immunizations could be plausibly linked with autism,” it also has very little relevancy. Why? Because if pediatricians start out their careers being taught and fully believing that vaccines are completely safe and effective and that disabling vaccine reactions are extremely rare or even non-existent, then they are unlikely to be open to the possibility that they may be seriously harming their young patients and will not be inclined to look for a potential link between the vaccines they give a child and the illnesses, disorders, and even deaths that follow vaccination. The connection simply isn’t on their radar screens.
In many cases, doctors will write off as anecdotal evidence any correlation there may be between a vaccine(s) they give to a pregnant woman, newborn infant or young child and subsequent harm, even when the harm manifests immediately or within days or weeks after the injection.
In their landmark 1985 book DPT: A Shot in the Dark published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich more than three decades ago, Harris L. Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher perfectly described this phenomenon:
Mothers, who know and observe their children far more carefully than any doctors ever will, have reported for decades that their healthy babies become sick and sometimes die shortly after the doctor has given them a vaccination. But doctors have rejected, and continue to reject, their conclusions. One mother’s experience is typical.
‘I have always felt it was the shot, because her convulsion came just one hour after it. But no doctor would admit it. I would go to a hospital, and she would be having something wrong, and I would tell them her story, and they would look at me like I was crazy. They kept telling me she would have gotten seizures anyway, that it was just coincidental that the seizures happened so close to the shot.’
But how can the medical establishment evaluate vaccine reactions if no one is willing to sit down and observe them? For two thousand years, clinical observation and description of disease has been the raw material of medical science. But this raw material is apparently not to the taste of vaccine policymakers who dismiss as ‘anecdotal’ the stories of mothers and fathers who came forward with their vaccine-injured children.15
The point is that Dr. Summers appears to base the strength of his theory that vaccines are safe on the fact that he has a medical degree, and thus that he knows better than Mr. Kennedy, who is only an attorney and environmental activist, or indeed he knows better than all the mothers who have been reporting for decades that their healthy children are dying or being left with different kinds of brain and immune system problems, including autism, after being vaccinated.
Once that logic is debunked, then Dr. Summers’ article doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Dr. Summers makes the following statement:
In the off chance that my word alone isn’t sufficient to collect the $100,000, I’m happy to proffer lots of studies that support the safety of vaccines.11
No, Dr. Summers, your word alone is not sufficient, either to prove that vaccines are safe or to collect the $100,000. Note that the WMP challenge is not offering the money to the first person to compile a list of studies supporting the safety of vaccines, but rather to the first person to provide a “peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.” Yes, the two are similar but not the same. For the sake of argument, though, let’s look at all those studies Dr. Summers presents.
The first study mentioned by Dr. Summers is one published in 2015 by the Lewin Group—a commercial firm with huge conflicts of interests, counting among its clients numerous vaccine manufacturers and promoters of vaccines, including Abbott Laboratories, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, EMD Serono, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare.”16 The study is titled “Autism Occurrence by MMR Vaccine Status Among US Children With Older Siblings With and Without Autism.”17
I’m familiar with the Lewin study. I analyzed and wrote an article about it soon after it came out titled “Another Backward Epidemiological Cohort Study.”18 Contrary to what Dr. Summers thinks, that study did not demonstrate that thimerosal is safe. Neither it nor the other studies referenced19 20 21 22 23 by Dr. Summers could ever hope to do so, because they are, for the most part, retrospective epidemiological studies. As I wrote in my piece:
[E]pidemiological studies—be they cohort or observational—aren’t the be all and end all of scientific research. First of all, it’s important to note that epidemiology is a basic science, not an applied science. It is not meant to prove anything, merely point the way for further research by fields of applied science that are more capable of solving problems and finding answers.18
Bear in mind that I am not just expressing my own opinion here. Michael Green, JD, Michal Freedman, JD, MPH and Leon Gordis, MD write in the National Research Council’s Reference Guide on Epidemiology:
Epidemiology is concerned with the incidence of disease in populations and does not address the question of the cause of an individual’s disease. This question, sometimes referred to as specific causation, is beyond the domain of the science of epidemiology. Epidemiology has its limits at the point where an inference is made that the relationship between an agent and a disease is causal (general causation) and where the magnitude of excess risk attributed to the agent has been determined; that is, epidemiology addresses whether an agent can cause a disease, not whether an agent did cause a specific plaintiff’s disease.18
Georgia Ede, MD writes:
Even the most rigorous epidemiological studies suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best, they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not prove them. … Epidemiological studies, at their best, can only point out a possible connection between two things, but that is only the very first step in trying to figure out whether or not there really is a connection between them.18
None of the epidemiological studies offered by Dr. Summers demonstrate the safety of thimerosal in vaccines. So, you may ask, “If epidemiological studies are not a good tool for demonstrating safety with regard to vaccines or other drugs, then what is?”
Good question. For starters, if epidemiological studies are going to be done to evaluate causation issues, then they should be large prospective (forward-looking), case controlled clinical studies that compare health outcomes of groups of individuals who do and do not receive vaccines. Most importantly, causation cannot be scientifically demonstrated without biological mechanism research that measure changes in brain and immune function following vaccination.
Perhaps Dr. Summers is unware of this, but there has only been one safety study ever conducted on thimerosal, and that was in 1930 by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. In that test, a “human toxicity” study, the company injected a thimerosal-containing solution known as merthiolate into 22 terminal meningitis patients, and within weeks all 22 of them died. Seven of the patients died within one day of receiving the merthiolate. In the report ultimately issued by Eli Lilly declaring thimerosal to be safe, the company did not include results of that test.24 25 26 27 28
In short, despite the studies that Dr. Summers thinks demonstrate the safety of thimerosal in vaccines or that supposedly show that vaccines do not cause autism, there does not exist a study that demonstrates either of these things. In fact, for every study that Dr. Summers can cite to support his position, there’s a study that can contradict it. There are at least 130 studies, for example, that Dr. Summers may prefer to ignore. To read them, click 130 Research papers supporting Vaccine/Autism Causation.29
Until scientists conduct appropriate biological mechanism studies plus a well-designed large, prospective case controlled study comparing health outcomes of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children, public health officials and pediatricians cannot begin to answer the trillion dollar question,”Are vaccines safe?” And Dr. Summers will never have the opportunity to claim the $100,000 in prize money he believes he is richly deserves.