Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

Folks who know the history of the Kennedy family and vaccines are likely surprised that RFK, Jr is holding a contest for his own organization using a visit to the Kennedy compound as a prize.

The Children’s Health Defense is ironically named, as all it seems to do is scare folks away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, something the Kennedy family once championed.

Can someone ask his mom?

Does she plan to go and does she support his work?

Do other members of the Kennedy family?

Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

Before we look at the work of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, let’s review what the Kennedy family has done to help get vaccine-preventable diseases under control.

“Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is also the anniversary of the announcement that a vaccine has been discovered to prevent paralytic polio. Today over 90 million Americans have been vaccinated with the Salk vaccine. Over 80 million remain unvaccinated. Almost 4,800,000 children have not been vaccinated, and the majority of these are under five years of age. I hope that the renewed drive this spring and summer to provide vaccination for all Americans, and particularly those who are young, will have the wholehearted support of every parent in America. I hope that they, knowing some of the long range suffering which comes from an attack of polio — with this miraculous drug I hope that everyone takes advantage of it.”

President John F. Kennedy News Conference 9, April 12, 1961

In 1962, John F. Kennedy signed the Vaccination Assistance Act (Section 317 of the Public Health Service Act). It started as a three year program to help get kids vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, and has been continuously reauthorized ever since.

What else do we know about the Kennedy family and vaccines?

“Rose and maternal health and the health of her children were paramount for her as those children were growing up. She took great pride in getting them out into the countryside, getting them outside and walking through Brookline when they lived there, and getting them fresh air and getting them whatever medical needs they had. But she would say how fearful she was in the days before vaccines of how a child could pass away so quickly.”

Barbara Perry on The Life of Rose Kennedy

Why was she afraid if measles was so mild, as some folks still claim?

“Or take German Measles. We know German Measles during the first three months of pregnancy almost surely will deform the unborn child. Within the last few weeks, a new vaccine has been tested and preliminary results show it is 100% effective. It should be available within a year. Within our proposed clinics this new vaccine can be administered to children, immunizing them forever against a disease which can cause retardation in future generations. “

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speech before the Citizen’s Committee on Mental Retardation

Concerns about congenital rubella syndrome and German Measles (rubella) led many people to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available.

Remember the rubella epidemic of 1964-65, when there were 12.5 million rubella virus infections, which “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome?”

“It is most encouraging to learn that 28 million children have been vaccinated. This is a wonderful record. But in the great enthusiasm over the rubella program, attention has been removed from the effort to eradicate the common measles. As a result, the 22,231 reported common measles cases in 1968 have risen to 72,000 reported cases for 1971. All children between the ages of 1 and 12 should be immunized. You can help. Keep interest alive in both the common measles and German measles program.”

Speech by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy March 1972

Maybe we simply need more folks like this advocating for vaccines today.

“Many of you perhaps may or may not know that old-fashioned measles can cause brain damage in children. Here in California as well as in other states, there are thousands of children who have not been vaccinated against this common childhood disease.”

Speech by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy March 1972

How many people have Sargent Shriver’s Peace Corp volunteers help get vaccinated and protected around the world?

“We already have the ability to eradicate red measles, responsible for brain inflammation and mental retardation in one in a thousand cases affected by the disease. The measles vaccine and other vaccines are being administered in increasing numbers today, but we are still far from the kind of universal vaccination program that is necessary. Measles vaccines ought to be administered to every infant from nine months of age on.”

Sargent Shriver at the Special Convocation of George Peabody College (1965)

How many people are vaccinated and protected because of the work of the Kennedy family?

Senator Edward Kennedy’s bill would have helped get more adults vaccinated and protected if it had passed.

How many kids aren’t getting vaccinated because Robert F Kennedy, Jr is scaring their parents?

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

Robert F. Kennedy

An environmental lawyer, you really have to wonder why he hasn’t championed climate change, instead of going after vaccines, which have been found to be safe, with few risks, and necessary.

More on Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

Vaccines and Social Media

Believe it or not, social media isn’t all bad, not even when it comes to talking about vaccines.

Of course, social media does amplify the bad players and does seem to help scare many parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

But the anti-vaccine movement pre-dates social media. Social media simply helps a minority of folks who don’t trust vaccines become even more vocal.

Vaccines and Social Media

So that we are on the same page, do you know what folks are talking about when they mention social media?

Social media is the interactive parts of the Internet, so places like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube, etc.

What are you going to find if you go on social media and want to talk about vaccines?

It depends.

“The semantic network of positive vaccine sentiment demonstrated greater cohesiveness in discourse compared to the larger, less-connected network of negative vaccine sentiment.”

Kang et al on Semantic Network Analysis of Vaccine Sentiment in Online Social Media

It depends on who your friends are, what groups you are in, and who you follow.

“Measures of information exposure derived from Twitter explained differences in coverage that were not explained by socioeconomic factors. Vaccine coverage was lower in states where safety concerns, misinformation, and conspiracies made up higher proportions of exposures, suggesting that negative representations of vaccines in the media may reflect or influence vaccine acceptance.”

Dunn et al on Mapping information exposure on social media to explain differences in HPV vaccine coverage in the United States.

And unfortunately, that likely influences whether or not your kids are going to be vaccinated and protected.

Social media can be a strong tool to combat vaccine hesitancy too though and can help educate folks that vaccines are safe, with few risks, and necessary.

“Given the ‘viral’ rates of anti-vaccination campaign dispersion through these same media, public health departments working in tandem with community groups, clinicians, hospitals and federal officials can leverage strong coalitions to prevent and treat infectious disease in their communities.”

Warren et al on Measles, social media and surveillance in Baltimore City

It is especially important that local and state health departments learn to use social media during outbreaks to educate the public on the importance of getting vaccinated and protected and combat propaganda and new conspiracy theories that sometimes arise when they don’t put out enough information about an outbreak.

“Our results indicate that users of Twitter (OR4.41, 95%CI: 1.43-13.60) and Facebook (OR 1.66, 95%CI: 1.01-2.72) as sources of health information were more likely to be vaccinated in comparison to users who do not use Twitter or Facebook as a source of health information.”

Ahmed et al on Social media use and influenza vaccine uptake among White and African American adults.

More than a few studies have shown that social media interventions improve vaccine acceptance.

Posting a #flushotselfie on social media can help others get vaccinated and protected too.
Posting a #flushotselfie on social media can help others get vaccinated and protected too.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that it is the folks who are against vaccines that are more likely to talk to others about vaccines on social media.

“To summarize the results, mothers who generally support childhood vaccinations are less likely to engage in communicative action about the issue, including information seeking, attending, forefending, permitting, forwarding, and sharing.”

McKeever et al on Silent Majority: Childhood Vaccinations and Antecedents to Communicative Action

So what should we do?

Instead of worrying about getting Larry Cook and a few other anti-vaccine heroes off social media, let’s get more vaccine advocates on social media!

“By targeting those who are in support of childhood vaccinations with simple, fact-based information that is easy to share online, media and health organizations could create a contagion effect on social media, which could help change perceptions, attitudes, and possibly even vaccine-related behaviors, and might have implications for years to come.”

McKeever et al on Silent Majority: Childhood Vaccinations and Antecedents to Communicative Action

And not just during outbreaks of measles!

More on Vaccines and Social Media

Is Larry Cook an International Threat to Pharma?

Larry Cook?

An International threat to Pharma?

Does Larry Cook really think that he needs bodyguards because Big Pharma is coming for him?
Does Larry Cook really think that he needs bodyguards because Big Pharma is coming for him?

Your first thought on seeing this was likely “Larry who?,” right?

Is Larry Cook an International Threat to Pharma?

To catch you up, Larry Cook is one of the newer heroes of the anti-vaccine movement.

He rose up post-SB 277 (the California vaccine law) on Facebook, with an anti-vaccine group that pushes stories that he claims are of kids who have died after they were vaccinated.

Larry Cook is not just about opposing vaccine mandates.

He has created a group to scare parents away from vaccinating their kids because he seems to believe that vaccines are dangerous and aren’t necessary.

Doing your vaccine research with Larry Cook is like learning about astronomy from a member of the Flat Earth Society.
Doing your vaccine research with Larry Cook is like learning about astronomy from a member of the Flat Earth Society.

Is he a threat to Pharma?

He’s only a threat to the folks who listen to him!

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and with all of the outbreaks we are seeing, they are obviously very necessary.

Is Larry Cook an International Threat to Pharma?

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

Dr. Bob Sears, who actually wrote a book about vaccines, seems to think that he and his podcasting sidekick have put the nail in the coffin “of trying to use the herd immunity argument to justify coerced vaccinated.”

Dr. Bob seems to think that herd immunity doesn't apply to vaccines.

The meme he shared even includes the hashtag stating that herd immunity doesn’t apply to vaccines.

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

While arguing against the idea of herd immunity and for coerced vaccination are common among anti-vaccine folks, neither is true.

Herd immunity is real and no-one is going to force anyone to vaccinate their kids. Vaccine mandates do not mean forced vaccination.

What about the idea that “all vaccines wane within about 2-15 years, leaving vaccinated children & adults unprotected?”

If that were true, then wouldn’t everyone who got sick in latest outbreaks be vaccinated? Why are most folks unvaccinated?

So we are either getting a lot of outbreaks because of waning immunity or your titers are getting boosted because you are getting exposed to so much natural disease. Got it?

While waning immunity is an issue for some vaccines, like mumps and pertussis, the primary and secondary failure rates are still not as bad as Dr. Bob suggests, which is why, in an outbreak, the attack rate of disease is always higher among those who are unvaccinated and unprotected.

The numbers don't always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.
The numbers don’t always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.

Is herd immunity the main argument that’s made when experts suggest we need stronger vaccine laws? I always thought the main argument is that folks should just vaccinate and protect their kids, but maintaining herd immunity so that your intentionally unvaccinated kids don’t put everyone else at risk is a good reason too.

Does everyone see the problem with Melissa Floyd’s math? This probably won’t be on the SAT, but you still want to get this right…

Like many others are doing right now, she used state level data. Since many of the folks who don’t vaccinate their kids cluster together in the same communities and schools, the “2% of those filing for exemptions” end up making up 10, 20, or even 30% of some school’s student population.

“This means if you are a primary non-responder, you are walking around every day with a false sense of security, clinically unvaccinated for that particular disease.”

Melissa Floyd

This is the whole point of herd immunity!

Because vaccines aren’t 100% effective, we can walk around all day without actually thinking about it much, hoping that we can rely on the fact that most other people are also vaccinated and protected. That keeps disease out of our community or herd.

The system typically breaks down though, not because vaccines aren’t effective enough, but because too many folks don’t get vaccinated.

“A 2011 article in “Vaccines”, edited by Stanley Plotkin, says, “Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induced solid immunity against infection…” Theoretical… Assumed…”

Melissa Floyd

She should have read the whole article, or at least used the whole quote…

“Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induce solid immunity against infection and that populations mix at random, consistent with the simple herd immunity threshold for random vaccination of Vc = (1-1/R0), using the symbol Vc for the critical minimum proportion to be vaccinated (assuming 100% vaccine effectiveness). More recent research has addressed the complexities of imperfect immunity, heterogeneous populations, nonrandom vaccination, and freeloaders.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

It doesn’t say what she thinks it says…

“Indeed, one might argue that herd immunity, in the final analysis, is about protecting society itself.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

So why haven’t we eradicated measles like we said we would?

“What’s funny is after the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, the medical community declared a goal of eradicating measles by 1967. But 1967 came and went and it still wasn’t gone, 1977, 1987, 2000… the dates kept getting pushed, and the result was always the same. Meanwhile they continued to increase the hypothesized “herd immunity threshold”, eventually winding up at the extremely high 95% you hear today. “

Melissa Floyd

That’s actually a good question.

What happened to the previous goals of eliminating measles?

“In 1966, the USA began an effort to eradicate the disease within its own borders. After a series of successes and setbacks, in 2000, 34 years after the initial goal was announced, measles was declared no longer to be endemic in the USA.”

Orenstein et al on Eradicating measles: a feasible goal?

Along the way, we have gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

“Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020.”

Measles

While there is doubt that we can truly eradicate measles with the current vaccine, we can certainly control and eliminate measles if folks stop listening to anti-vaccine propaganda and they get vaccinated and protected.

More on Dr. Bob and His Herd Immunity Arguments

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Measles Outbreak Edition

There are two big reasons that we are still having to talk about how it’s mainly unvaccinated folks that get sick in measles outbreaks.

Some folks keep spreading misinformation about measles, such as how most of the people who got sick in the Disney outbreak were vaccinated!?!

And other folks believe them!

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Measles Outbreak Edition

Fortunately, misinformation about the number of vaccinated vs unvaccinated in an outbreak is among the easiest things to fact check.

Although folks will try to misrepresent this slide, as you can easily see, most of the folks in the Disneyland outbreak were unvaccinated.

That’s not how any of this works…

For example, if you wanted to assume that the 20 people who said that they were vaccinated really were, then you have to assume that the rest of those folks weren’t. And you also have to raise the number of folks who had their immunization status verified.

But you really shouldn’t make assumptions. All you can really say for sure from this data is that 15 (13 + 2) of the people, out of the 131 cases, were fully vaccinated.

What about the New York outbreak in 2011? Was it really started by someone who was fully vaccinated?

Surprisingly, it was!

“This is the first report of measles transmission from a twice-vaccinated individual with documented secondary vaccine failure. The clinical presentation and laboratory data of the index patient were typical of measles in a naive individual. Secondary patients had robust anamnestic antibody responses. No tertiary cases occurred despite numerous contacts.”

Rosen et al on Outbreak of measles among persons with prior evidence of immunity, New York City, 2011.

And it was a very big deal because it was the first time it had ever been reported as happening!

“During 2011, a provisional total of 222 measles cases were reported from 31 states. The median age of the patients was 14 years (range: 3 months to 84 years); 27 (14%) were aged <12 months, 51 (26%) were aged 1–4 years, 42 (21%) were aged 5–19 years, and 76 (39%) were aged ≥20 years. Most patients were unvaccinated (65%) or had unknown vaccination status (21%).”

Measles — United States, 2011

That’s in contrast to all of the other measles cases that year. Remember, there were a total of 222 measles cases in the United States in 2011. Few were vaccinated.

What about other measles outbreaks?

Only 4% of people in the Rockland County measles outbreak have been fully vaccinated.
Only 4% of people in the Rockland County measles outbreak have been fully vaccinated.

As much as folks try and report that most of the people in recent outbreaks are vaccinated, they aren’t.

Only one person, out of 53 cases of measles, is known to have had a dose of MMR in the Clark County measles outbreak.

What about other measles outbreaks?

OutbreaksYearVaccinatedUnvaccinatedUnknown
California – 24 cases201724
Minnesota – 75 cases20175682
Tennessee – 7 cases201616
Ohio – 383 cases2014534038
California – 58 cases2014112518
Texas – 21 cases2013165
Florida – 5 cases20135
Brooklyn – 58 cases201358
North Carolina – 23 cases20132183
Minnesota – 21 cases2011183
San Diego – 12 cases200812

We don’t even have to do the math.

“The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.”

Measles Cases and Outbreaks

It is easy to see that most folks in these outbreaks are unvaccinated!

Get vaccinated and stop the outbreaks. Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and necessary.

More on Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Measles Outbreak Edition

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963.

So why do we still have measles?

Shouldn’t measles be on the list with all of the other eradicated diseases, like smallpox and, well smallpox…

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

Eradicating a disease is not as simple as developing a vaccine.

If it were, a lot of diseases would have been eradicated already.

Hopefully, we will add more to the list of eradicated diseases, but there are some that will never be eradicated. Tetanus, for example, is ubiquitous in soil, so would be nearly impossible to eradicate. Other diseases, like rabies and yellow fever, would be hard to eradicate because they can infect animals or insects.

What about measles?

Anti-vaccine folks do not understand herd immunity.

While there was never a goal to eradicate measles by 1967, we have missed several deadlines to get measles under better control.

What was the first deadline?

“Recent successes in interrupting indigenous transmission of measles virus in the Americas and in the United Kingdom prompted the World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and CDC to convene a meeting in July, 1996 to consider the feasibility of global measles eradication.”

Measles Eradication: Recommendations from a Meeting Cosponsored by the World HealthOrganization, the Pan American Health Organization, and CDC

Folks started talking about measles eradication in 1996.

Before that though, there had been a goal to eliminate measles in the United States.

“An effort is underway to eliminate indigenous measles from the United States; a target date of October 1, 1982 has been set.”

Although we missed that initial target date, we weren’t too far off.

“In 1978, the US Public Health Service initiated a Measles Elimination Program with the goal of eliminating measles from the United States by 1982. The goals of this program included (1) maintenance of high levels of immunity,(2) careful surveillance of disease, and (3) aggressive control of outbreaks. Unfortunately, the program failed, predominantly because of the failure to implement the recommended vaccination strategy and because of vaccine failure. An increase in measles cases was sustained from 1983 through 1991 and was particularly dramatic from 1989 through 1991.”

Poland et al on Failure to Reach the Goal of Measles Elimination

There is also the fact that measles is just so dang contagious!

Improving vaccination rates and a two-dose MMR schedule helped decrease measles rates even further and finally eliminate the endemic spread of measles in the United States in 2000.

What were some other deadlines and goals?

  • In 1989, the World Health Assembly resolved to reduce measles morbidity and mortality by 90% and 95%, respectively, by 1995, compared with disease burden during the prevaccine era.
  • In 1990, the World Summit for Children adopted a goal of vaccinating 90% of children against measles by 2000.
  • Regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the American Region (AMR) by 2000, the European Region (EUR) by 2007, and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) by 2010.
  • A regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the Western Pacific (WPR) by 2012.
  • In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan with the objective to eliminate measles in four World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2015 – the Region of the Americas, EUR, EMR, and WPR.
  • Countries in all six WHO regions have adopted goals for measles elimination by 2020.

Obviously, we haven’t hit all of the goals and deadlines on time.

What have we done?

We have tremendously reduced the number of children who get measles and who die with measles. For example, instead of meeting the 2010 goals of decreasing global measles mortality by 90% over 2000 levels, we have decreased it by 74%. The world has gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 million deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

There is still some work to be done though, especially with the uptick in cases and deaths in the last few years.

“Eradication of both measles and rubella is considered to be feasible, beneficial, and more cost-effective than high-level control.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review report: Background and summary

Work that we can still do if everyone makes the commitment to implement their elimination plans.

And folks vaccinate and protect their kids!

What’s the alternative?

To go back to when even more kids got sick and died with measles?

More on Eradicating Measles

Where are the Saline Placebos?

Remember when anti-vaccine folks used to say that there were no double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials for vaccines?

What happened once they realized that there actually were?

They moved the goal posts…

Where are the Saline Placebos?

Okay, they said.

So you have done double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials when testing vaccines, but what placebo did you use?

Was it a pure saline placebo?

“Placebo Control – A comparator in a vaccine trial that does not include the antigen under study. In studies of monovalent vaccines this may be an inert placebo (e.g. saline solution or the vehicle of the vaccine), or an antigenically different vaccine. In combined vaccines, this may be a control arm in which the component of the vaccine being studied is lacking.”

WHO on the Guidelines on clinical evaluation of vaccines: regulatory expectations

Although no guidelines actually call for using a pure saline placebo, that’s all anti-vaccine folks will accept these days.

Why?

That’s there MO – or method of operation.

When one theory or myth gets squashed – they move to another.

They move the goalposts.

It doesn’t matter that there are often ethical and logistical problems with using pure saline placebos, that’s all they want to hear about it.

That they wouldn’t be satisfied and start vaccinating their kids if all vaccine studies started to use saline placebos should be evident when you consider that many vaccine studies have already used saline placebos!

There are many more vaccine studies that have used saline placebos and like other vaccine studies, have found vaccines to be safe and effective.

But how do you know that they used a real saline placebo and not some kind of saline solution with other stuff in it?

If it isn’t clear to you in the methods section of the study, go to the source – the original clinical trials record and it will be listed there.

What are you going to be worried about now?

More on Saline Placebos