On Wednesday, at the National Press Club, Robert Kennedy Jr. and a panel of people including a producer of the anti-vaccine movie Vaxxed and actor Robert DeNiro, offered a $100,000 cash reward for anyone who can prove that “vaccines are safe.” His The World Mercury Project announced an “Open Challenge to American Science Journalists (and others)” to point out any peer-reviewed paper “demonstrating that [the preservative] thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.” Actress Alicia Silverstone is also on the board of directors for the project.
It’s getting pretty tiresome, really, to have to prove that something there isn’t any evidence for doesn’t exist, and yet, scientists have done it again and again. The incidence of children with autism who are vaccinated vs. those who are not has been found to be exactly the same several times.
Robert DeNiro, who has an autistic child, is a vaccine “skeptic,” as were several of the other panelists, one of whom described his child “regressing” into autism after developing normally at first. But this is often a normal progression of autism, not one that is caused by external factors: Many parents and professionals note that babies often do not show symptoms of autism until 12 or 24 months of age.
Specifically, Kennedy and other anti-vaxxers — all of whom, ironically, claim to be both “pro science” and “pro-vaccine” — take issue with the vaccine preservative thimerosal — which contains mercury — which they believe causes autism. But thimerosal is not in any childhood vaccines except for flu vaccines (and there is a thimerosal-free version available, too). Though widely considered by the medical community and the CDC to be safe, thimerosal was removed from vaccines beginning in the 1990s over concerns from the public. Specifically, the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella is often cited as being a culprit for autism. But that vaccine never contained thimerosal, according to the CDC. Kennedy and others in the vaccine-denial community, however, do not believe the CDC. They’re conspiracy theorists who believe in a large-scale, government cover-up, which is why it makes sense that the full-length video of yesterday’s presentation is available on Alex Jones’s Infowars YouTube channel.
Ultimately, one of the major stumbling blocks in this debate is that, though the science is there, and it’s solid, and vaccines do not and never did cause autism, about 1 in 68 (some estimates are higher) children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. There is no scientific consensus yet on whether those numbers are increasing or if we are simply diagnosing children differently than in the past, but the fact remains that there are a lot of parents out there who are in pain and want answers. Unfortunately, the answers that some people, like DeNiro and Kennedy, who are not medical professionals, are offering are the wrong ones.
The scientific and medical communities are united in their belief that vaccines are safe and also critical to the well-being of children. Just last week, more than 300 medical groups wrote a letter to President Trump expressing unequivocal support for vaccinations and the current CDC time line for how they are administered. “Claims that vaccines are unsafe when administered according to expert recommendations have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature,” they wrote. “Delaying vaccines only leaves our nation’s citizens at risk of disease, particularly children.” They were compelled to write this letter because, of course, it’s not just DeNiro and Kennedy who think vaccines can cause autism. Our president agrees with them.