I consider myself to be pro-science, as I think most Democrats do. We believe in climate change and that religious beliefs should not trump science in public policy. So imagine my disappointment upon learning that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a man who has done tremendous good and who has fought tirelessly for the environment, is an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist, and apparently has been for years.
In 2005, he published a remarkable essay in Salon and Rolling Stone called “Deadly Immunity,”linking the preservative thimerosal to autism. The article was overwhelmingly ridden with factual errors, so much so that Salon later took the extreme measure of removing the article from its archives. But the damage was done. Kennedy had helped mainstream the fear of vaccines.
It’s particularly upsetting to me when fellow Democrats espouse these theories, because I really believe it damages our credibility on issues like climate change and science education in classrooms.
But beyond my personal problems with this movement, it’s just plain dangerous!
We’ve seen a rapid increase of outbreaks in preventable diseases, such as pertussis (whooping cough), measles, and mumps in the U.S. and the U.K. Whooping cough, for example, hit its highest rate of infection in 50 years over the last winter in the United States. A website dedicated to tracking the illnesses and deaths associated with the anti-vaccine movement cites over 100,000 illnesses and over 1000 deaths from these preventable diseases.
Vaccines work because when enough people are vaccinated, it protects everyone, even those who are too sick to receive vaccinations themselves. As fewer people become vaccinated, the most vulnerable among us risk even greater exposure to deadly diseases.
It’s tough to hold up the pro-science banner when we allow ourselves to be taken in by conspiracy theorists who play on our fears. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to make sure that public health policy is dictated by science and facts, not fear and ignorance.