Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the vaccine critic that Donald Trump is reportedly considering to chair a committee on vaccine safety, wants vaccine advocates to “prove” they’re safe.
According to BuzzFeed, Kennedy and actor Robert De Niro announced the “World Mercury Project Challenge” on Wednesday, offering $100,000 to anyone who could find a study demonstrating the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines for children and pregnant women. From BuzzFeed:
“What we’ve been told is not science. It’s more akin to religion. It’s orthodoxy,” Kennedy told an audience of perhaps two dozen journalists, and several thousand people watching the livestream on his group’s Facebook page. “We need to break this impasse.”
The thing is, we don’t need a challenge to prove the safety of vaccines. Vaccines are safe—and we’re running out of ways to say it.
Among experts, there is no real debate over whether vaccines cause autism. The study that originally suggested the link has been thoroughly debunked and retracted, and no work since has supported it.
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Kennedy gained notoriety in the anti-vaxxer community after writing a 2014 book linking autism to flu vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Thimerosal was removed from children’s vaccines in 1999 out caution and most other flu vaccines no longer contain it. A recent study of nearly 200,000 children found an insignificant correlation between autism and mothers who received the flu vaccine while pregnant.
What is certain is that vaccines keep terrible diseases at bay. Vaccines avert between 2 and 3 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. As the anti-vaccine movement has spread, we have seen a resurgence of diseases once thought to no longer be a problem in America. The spring of 2015 saw the first death from measles in the United States in 12 years. That same year, vaccine refusal helped spur a measles outbreak at Disneyland.
Let’s say it again: Vaccines are safe.