Bad Takes: Robert Kennedy Jr.'s anti-vaccine claims aren't just bullshit, they're dangerous bullshit

During a recent installment of his show, Joe Rogan permitted Robert Kennedy's busted sewer main's-worth of hazardous falsehoods to gush out, un-fact-checked.

click to enlarge Bad Takes: Robert Kennedy Jr.'s anti-vaccine claims aren't just bullshit, they're dangerous bullshit
Wikimedia Commons / Daniel Schwen

Editor's Note: Bad Takes is a column of opinion and analysis.

The late John F. Kennedy's nephew, Robert Kennedy Jr., announced his run for president in April and, earlier this month, enjoyed a three-hour misinformation-sucking session with a certain dietary supplement salesman based in Austin.

By the numbers, more Homo sapiens catch said salesman's show, The Joe Rogan Experience, than any other podcast on Earth. Rogan generates hundreds of millions of dollars for his Big Tech daddy, Spotify, a multibillion media platform which has abandoned its stated policy against "dangerous false or deceptive medical information that poses a threat to public health."

During a recent installment of his show, Rogan permitted Robert Kennedy's busted sewer main's-worth of hazardous falsehoods to gush out, un-fact-checked — all over his millions of subscribers.

During his appearance, Kennedy said getting the Hepatitis B vaccine only makes sense if you're a "really seasoned prostitute" or engaged in "compulsive homosexual behavior." He also said "not one" of the vaccines on the recommended schedule "has ever been tested in a placebo-controlled trial."

"The Spanish Flu was not a virus," he further asserted, claiming that there's "good evidence" the tens of millions of deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic were — you guessed it — "vaccine-induced."

Predictably, Kennedy asserted that the US "spent $16 trillion on the lockdown" and "got nothing for it." Regarding those of us who got vaccinated against COVID-19, he predicted, "You're more likely to get sick" because it "does the opposite." He also blamed COVID vaccines for "beautiful children dying on playing fields," and suggested that early AIDS treatments killed more patients than AIDS itself.

And, not neglecting his No. 1 hit, Kennedy claimed vaccines cause autism and make kids "retarded." That's his use of the dated, offensive term, not ours, by the way.

All of this hokum has been ably debunked by credible sources elsewhere, but let's isolate just one of Kennedy's most egregious.

"They had to discredit Ivermectin, because a federal law says you cannot issue an emergency use authorization to a vaccine if there's an existing medication," he told Rogan.

Who is "they?" If he means the Food and Drug Administration, that agency informed the Associated Press that an "available treatment for COVID does not preclude the FDA from authorizing a vaccine." After all, in 2020, the FDA approved convalescent plasma and hydroxychloroquine, yet that in no way threatened Operation Warp Speed.

This highlights an indelible feature of conspiracism: that the claim often contains grains of truth. The relevant statute — 21 US Code § 360bbb–3 — does stipulate the Secretary of Health and Human Services should only authorize a medicine for emergency use if "there is no adequate, approved, and available alternative." But, clearly, anything less than a virtual cure for COVID would be inadequate since Americans were dying by the thousands weekly.

Notice also the skipping over of blatant contradictions. Kennedy went on to denounce the FDA for approving Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, to treat COVID. But wait. Why would the FDA approve that drug if it would legally hamstring it from rolling out vaccines?

Rogan never asked that rather obvious question.

In the throes of the pandemic, Kennedy compared mitigation measures to the Holocaust, stating during an anti-vaxxer rally in Washington, D.C., that the Nazis tested vaccines on Jews and others in concentration camps.

"Even in Hitler's Germany you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did," Kennedy claimed. Whereas, "none of us can run" from vaccine requirements.

In reality, the Nazis allowed diseases to run rampant in the ghettos and concentration camps, and Anne Frank likely died of typhoid fever at Bergen-Belsen. There's an ethical galaxy of difference between trying to save people and trying to exterminate them.

Before the interview was over, Kennedy and Rogan smeared world-renowned Houston pediatrician Dr. Peter Hotez, who has dedicated his career to developing patent-free vaccines for poor countries, bypassing Big Pharma's stranglehold on the market. Kennedy accused Hotez of "made-up science," and Rogan challenged him to debate Kennedy for $100,000.

When Hotez declined, Twitter's CEO Elon Musk joined the pile-on, claiming the doctor was "afraid." Hotez was later stalked outside his home by right-wing provocateurs.

Refusing to entertain cranks is not a sign of cowardice, but discretion.

If only Kennedy were simply a crank of the harmless variety.

"Kennedy's brand of extreme anti-vaccine activism can have deadly consequences," science communicator Edward Nirenberg and physician and professor Gavin Yamey wrote in Time Magazine last week. "In June 2019, he visited Samoa, appearing alongside local anti-vaccine activists. Later that year, a measles outbreak resulted in 83 preventable deaths, most of which were in children under 5 because of poor uptake of the MMR vaccine."

In the contiguous United States too, we're again experiencing outbreaks of diseases we thought left in the previous century.

Kennedy's claim to fame — beyond his political lineage — is as an environmental lawyer, and he was not wrong to claim on Rogan's show that "our children are swimming around in a toxic soup."

On June 1, a study in the Annals of Global Health reported that internal memos dating to the 1970s revealed DuPont and 3M knew so-called "forever chemicals" such as those in Teflon were "toxic when inhaled and ingested" 40 years before the science community.

"[Yet corporate entities] failed to report their findings to EPA as required," the study authors concluded. "In some cases, industry executives were explicit that they 'wanted this memo destroyed.'"

That's a genuine conspiracy. As of 2015, safe levels of these chemicals in our water systems were exceeded by factors of 100 in 27 states, with no enforceable federal limits yet established.

If one were slightly paranoid, one might wonder if it's not in the interest of wealthy elites to amplify tragic farces such as those propagated by Kennedy as a smoke screen to hide corporate malfeasance.

Crying wolf when there is none injures the noble environmental causes Kennedy initially championed as well as the urgently needed push to detoxify the places we live.

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