How RFK, Jr., Went From “a Good Guy” to an “Anti-Vaxxer”

Here’s the quick summary of the story of how science convinced RFK Jr to become a truthteller about vaccines:

Back in the 1990’s, RFK was trying to get public attention about the presence of mercury in fish due to pollution from coal plants. This is well known. He was respected as an environmentalist. Everyone (except the coal companies) loved him.
When he gave lectures, he noticed that a half dozen women would always arrive early and get seats at the front. After each lecture, they would try to get him interested in vaccines causing autism due to the mercury in the vaccines. They sought him out because he was a force and knew about mercury. They thought it would be a perfect fit.
But every time, Kennedy rejected their efforts. He wanted to stay focused on his environmental mission.
Finally, one of the women showed up on his doorstep with an 18” high stack of technical papers printed from medical journals. She said, “I’m not leaving until you read these.” That got his attention. He read all the papers. He was alarmed by what he had read.
He then contacted his friends (they were still his friends at that time) in the CDC and FDA asking them about why they were recommending pregnant women avoid fish, while at the same time recommending these same women get vaccines containing lots of mercury. None of the people at the agencies could answer his questions. They all said, “Talk to Paul Offit.”
In 2005, RFK called Offit. Offit said the reason why it was OK was that the mercury in thimerosal only lasted a week in the bloodstream; it was quickly eliminated per Pichichero (see this reference for a discussion).
But RFK had read all the papers. He knew he was being lied to. He immediately cited the pivotal study (by Burbacher in April 2005) that looked at where the mercury “disappeared to.” It went out of the bloodstream and accumulated in the brain where it permanently remained. Offit was speechless. Offit didn’t think anyone knew about the Burbacher study. Offit then acknowledged he knew about the Burbacher study, but said that other papers had overturned that study and offered to send RFK the references. Those references never arrived. That sealed the deal for RFK and led to his famous “Deadly Immunity” article in July 2005.
Shortly thereafter, Lyn Redwood, one of RFK’s friends, pointed him to the Simpsonwood transcripts showing the CDC knew about the dangers of thimerosal in July1999 and discussed it in a meeting on June 7 and 8, 2000 where the transcripts remained secret until finally released via FOIA request. It turns out, there were several versions of the Verstraeten paper (see “A “SIGNAL” DISAPPEARS ACROSS FIVE GENERATIONS OF STUDY”) each version making the effect on autism smaller (7.62, 2.48, 1.69 was the effect size on autism where 2 or more is very concerning) but there was an admission in an email on December 17, 1999 that Verstraeten sent to colleagues Robert Davis and Frank DeStefano under the subject line “It just won’t go away,” by which one presumes he meant the association between thimerosal and NDDs. At the Simpsonwood meeting, the scientists admitted that they couldn’t rule out that the mercury could be causing a whole host of diseases. They also pointed out that the meeting transcript might be disclosed via FOIA requests, so people were quite guarded in their comments. It was clearly serious because they gathered experts from all over the country for an urgent meeting that lasted nearly two days. They wouldn’t have done that if there wasn’t a serious problem.
Jake Tapper was with ABC News at the time. ABC News was going to run a massive expose about Simpsonwood, but the network pulled the plug on the story at the last minute. Jake told RFK Jr. the bad news and explained this had never happened to Jake before. They haven’t spoken since that time, nearly 20 years ago.

In short, RFK Jr. was persuaded the vaccines were unsafe based on science and how people acted to deliberately cover it up. It’s no more complicated than that.

Jake Tapper knows RFK Jr. isn’t a conspiracy theorist since it was Tapper’s story supporting RFK Jr. at the time. And of course, since then, it’s crystal clear that RFK Jr. was correct (as we’ll explain in the next section).

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