Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and vaccine skeptic, held a press conference Wednesday with Robert De Niro, an actor who appeared in Meet the Fockers and who is now, I guess, a public health expert. The two are promoting a factually incorrect claim that vaccines contain a dangerous level of mercury, and they will pay anybody who proves them otherwise.
Kennedy is the chairman of something called the World Mercury Project which, per a press release, is dedicated to “stopping use of highly toxic mercury in vaccines.” He means thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury and which was once used as a preservative, but was taken out of childhood vaccines in 2001. (It isn’t proven to be hazardous to human health but was removed from those vaccines out of an abundance of caution). It’s still used in some flu vaccines, and the FDA and every other major medical body can point to a battery of studies proving it’s safe.
That is not sufficient for De Niro and Kennedy, who would like proof that the thimerosal isn’t dangerous, and will, they said, pay $100,000 for proof. (Nobody involved in this effort would classify themselves as “anti-vaccine,” of course; everyone says something to the effect that they merely want safe vaccines. Vaccines are extremely safe and very effective.) Kennedy manages to imply that we only think vaccines are safe because nobody’s done the research. From the press release:
Kennedy explained that 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. Kennedy believes that even “a meager effort at homework” will expose that contention as unsupported by science.
A full livestream of the press conference was hosted by conspiracy hub InfoWars, who are extremely excited about anti-vaccine ideas getting a nice foothold in the mainstream. Their video of the press conference shows that Kennedy and De Niro were joined by Del Bigtree, a former producer on a CBS talkshow called The Doctors and one of the producers of the anti-vaccine movie Vaxxed. De Niro pushed for the film to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, but it was removed following a huge outcry.
Kennedy recently said that Donald Trump—who believes vaccines cause autism —asked him to chair a commission on vaccine safety. There’s been radio silence on the progress of that commission since then, but Buzzfeed notes Kennedy said Wednesday that he’s talked to the Trump administration three times in the intervening weeks:
On Wednesday, Kennedy said that he’s been contacted by the Trump administration three times since their original meeting in January. “They tell me that they’re still going forward with a commission,” Kennedy said, adding that he “can’t tell” whether it will happen.
There’s already a vaccine safety commission, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices. We asked the Trump administration how the new proposed commission would work with ADIP, where formation of the commission currently stands, and who would sit on it. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks tells Jezebel, “We do not have an update at this time.”
In a fun coincidence, Jezebel also attended a screening of Vaxxed on Sunday night at the Conscious Life Expo in Los Angeles. During a Q&A afterwards, Del Bigtree said Kennedy had been “ripped open by the media” after the announcement that he’d chair the vaccine safety commission. Bigtree indicated that he himself is working behind the scenes to make the commission happen: “I’m working around that situation,” he promised. The Vaxxed team didn’t return a request for comment about what that means.