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Sunday, July 11, 2021


‘In a break from the scion’s progressive family tradition, ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. has become an unlikely evangelist for the anti-vax movement

ON A SUNNY SUNDAY in September, a crowd of more than a hundred gathered at Malibu Fig Ranch, a biodynamic farm situated just across the Pacific Coast Highway from Point Dume, where the ocean is cerulean and home prices on the coastal bluffs soar into eight figures.

The crowd at the farm that afternoon reflected local demographics and the $150-per-head admission fee: Among the confirmed guests were a luxury swimwear designer; a San Diego flower-crown maker who drove more than a hundred miles with her teen daughter to attend; a crystal purveyor; a “high vibe food” Instagram influencer; and a former fashion editor turned photographer. The homemade wood-fired pizzas were topped with organic squash blossoms. The dresses were Dôen. Range Rovers gleamed in the parking area.

As they waited for the headline speaker to arrive, the attendees—mostly women, white, and maskless—milled around the beds of lavender and lacinato kale making small talk about chemtrails and mask restrictions at the local grocery store. Children ran between the tables in front of a small stage where a pair of Topanga Canyon–esque folk musicians played.

And then he arrived: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., California casual in faded blue jeans and a short-sleeve button-up spangled with whales. The crowd went wild in the way this crowd is wont: a few with tongue-in-cheek modified sphinx poses, bowing to their guru. There were maskless handshakes and maskless hugs and maskless photo ops, and then Kennedy took the stage. For more than an hour, he described his work in what he calls “health advocacy,” including a well-trod story about how, in 2005, a mother showed up on his front porch on the Massachusetts cape with a stack of medical information over a foot high, demanding that he hear her out about what she saw as a link between vaccines and her son’s autism diagnosis. He made a joke about why he did so (“Well, I’m susceptible to flattery”), highlighted his background as a lawyer, and eventually claimed that Bill Gates is responsible for the “forced” vaccinations of millions of African children.

IN RECENT YEARS, Kennedy has become an unlikely North Star to a network of vaccine skeptics. At a March 25 congressional hearing titled “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation,” CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Sundar Pichai of Google appeared as witnesses, fielding questions from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on such topics as “censorship,” fact-checking policies, and targeted advertisements. Kennedy, a central figure in what’s known as the “Disinformation Dozen,” was name-checked by U.S. representatives Anna Eshoo, Brett Guthrie, and Billy Long. According to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch, the Dozen are the source of as much as two thirds of all anti-vaccination content shared on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to Kennedy, the group includes Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic practitioner who operates a “natural health” website and lucrative e-commerce business; Ty and Charlene Bollinger, known for promoting questionable cancer treatments; and Christiane Northrup, who has insinuated in a Facebook video that receiving a vaccination will mean the patient’s DNA is owned by an ominous and unnamed “they.” “I don’t get why he is where he is,” Eshoo told Vanity Fair shortly before the hearing, meaning Kennedy. “I just don’t get it. But when someone feels that strongly about it and then has a name with a great legacy, a lot of people pay attention to that.”

In a letter to Facebook and Twitter leaders sent March 24, attorneys general from 12 states called on the social media behemoths to enforce policies to label misinformation about coronavirus vaccines and ban repeat offenders, writing, “Anti-vaccine misinformation continues to spread on your platforms, in violation of your community standards.” Connecticut AG William Tong, who led the initiative, says, “They’re putting people at risk. And they are getting people killed. This isn’t some fanciful public policy academic debate that happens in some safe space at a university. This is real life. Life or death. People indulging their conspiracy theories—people indulging ideas that are not based in science, people with alternative warped political agendas—to prevent people from getting vaccines is causing people to get sick and to die.” Recent polls from NPR/Marist and Monmouth University found that between 21 percent and 25 percent of American adults questioned don’t plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

For those who aren’t vaccine-suspicious, Kennedy’s is the only name on the list likely to ring any bells. And it’s his name recognition that makes him particularly worrisome to groups like the Anti-Vax Watch, which has been documenting Kennedy’s violations of social media misinformation policies. In August 2020, Kennedy and the Children’s Health Defense sued Facebook for censoring “valid and truthful speech” and “their smear campaign against Plaintiff,” seeking damages of $5 million or more. (In April, Jed Rubenfeld, who is currently suspended from his professorship at Yale Law School after an investigation into allegations by his students of sexual harassment, which he has denied, joined CHD’s legal team in the case.) In February, Instagram barred Kennedy “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines,” according to a representative from Facebook, which owns Instagram, though his profile on Facebook remains active, as does his Twitter account. According to a Facebook spokesperson, its platforms remove user accounts after they perpetrate an unspecified number of repeated violations.

“That’s what makes me the angriest about these disinformation campaigns, that often they are coming from people with no scientific knowledge, no credibility,” says Jaimie Meyer, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Yale Medicine and an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale School of Medicine. “There’s no evidence for anything.”

FOR DECADES, KENNEDY, son of former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy and nephew to President John F. Kennedy, was known for his work in environmental law, suing corporations on behalf of Indigenous groups and other individuals, and vocally opposing dependency on fossil fuels. But in the late ’90s, he also helped found the Food Allergy Initiative and began to argue that certain allergies were linked to childhood vaccines. In 2014 he edited Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak; in 2016 he coauthored Vaccine Villains: What the American Public Should Know About the Industry; and he’s lent his name to multiple other similar books by way of forewords, including the third edition of The Peanut Allergy Epidemic, which features a graphic of a needle on its blood red cover, and 2020’s Plague of Corruption, coauthored by discredited former researcher Judy Mikovits. In 2016, Kennedy founded the World Mercury Project, which he expanded into the Children’s Health Defense in 2018, a nonprofit with a self-described mission “to end the childhood health epidemics by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and establish safeguards so this never happens again.” Kennedy, who serves as chairman of the board and chief legal counsel, features prominently on the site; his portrait appears on the homepage under a banner reading “The Defender” (the name of the site’s newsletter), and a one-liner—“The greatest crisis that America faces today is the chronic disease epidemic in America’s children”—emblazoned next to the Kennedy visage that has been a feature of American iconography for more than half a century: square-set jaw; mouth half open, midspeech; blue eyes that appear to perpetually squint into the sun. This summer, he has a new book out from his longtime publisher, Skyhorse. The book, which will be distributed by Simon & Schuster, is called The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health. (Full disclosure: This reporter has a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster.) He has an embattled stance toward the press: “Are you doing journalism or is this a hit piece? I’m assuming it’s a hit piece,” he wrote in response to an interview request.

It is difficult to comprehend how a spectacularly educated person (undergrad at Harvard, classes at the London School of Economics, law school at the University of Virginia, and a master’s in environmental law from Pace University) feels comfortable promoting the kind of arguments that Kennedy puts forth—ones in opposition to scientific consensus: “Currently, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines or any material used to make or preserve vaccines causes or contributes to ASD. A great deal of research projects have come to the same conclusion, including those conducted independently and recently,” reads a fact sheet by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (named for Kennedy’s aunt).

“The sad reality is vaccines cause injuries and death,” Kennedy wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden that was published in “The Defender” on March  17. “In the two and one-half months since the U.S. began our COVID vaccination program, there have been 31,079 injuries and 1,524 deaths reported after COVID vaccine.” These statistics, pulled from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, do sound dire, but a simple search of that website proves clarifying: These “injuries” tend to include headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea, and other issues clearly delineated by the CDC as common side effects of the vaccine. (“Those are of course the only injuries that doctors are encouraged to report,” Kennedy writes in an email.) Meyer says that VAERS is a useful tool in observing the range of potential reactions to vaccines, though “it’s not causation,” she says. “It’s a potential association that needs further scientific investigation.” (In April, the FDA and CDC recommended that vaccination sites temporarily pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six people suffered rare blood clots associated with low blood platelets. Later that month, those agencies recommended resuming use of the vaccine, stating that “a review of all available data at this time shows that the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks.”)

Likewise, the deaths cited by Kennedy did reportedly occur after the administration of the vaccine, but a large number of entries list the deceased person as elderly and/or infirm; many entries by clinicians make note that a death is presumed unrelated to the vaccine, others note long delays of 5 or 6 or 12 days between administration and death. A quick skim of a few pages of stats shows that more than one person died by suicide. Another, who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19, was already unresponsive when her first vaccination dose was administered. A 99-year-old male who died 12 hours after receiving the vaccine had “refused food for one week prior to death.”

“The CDC counts every death after a positive PCR test as a death from COVID,” wrote Kennedy in a response to Vanity Fair’s question about these discrepancies. (This is incorrect. The CDC’s “provisional death counts,” which the site describes as “the most complete and accurate picture of lives lost to COVID-19,” are based on the medical information listed on death certificates, not positive PCR tests.) Kennedy goes on: “Yet the CDC admits that only 6% of COVID deaths are exclusively caused by COVID.” (Per a spokesperson from the CDC: “Death certificates with only COVID-19 reported are likely incomplete. Severe COVID-19 leads to complications, and if those complications lead to death, they should be listed on the death certificate along with COVID. But in a small number of cases the complications aren’t listed, and that’s likely what explains the 6 percent. It is similar to an overdose death where the certificate only lists ‘overdose’ on the certificate but doesn’t include what drug was involved.”) “Did you also go through CDC’s COVID death reports to comb out the ones you consider unrelated to COVID?” Kennedy asks. (The leading comorbidity on death certificates that list COVID-19 as the cause of death is “Influenza and pneumonia”; pneumonia is a complication of COVID-19.)

Much of Kennedy’s more clickbaity posts call for a reexamination of existing research and reporting on vaccines and a better “vaccine injury surveillance system.” “The medical cartel treats doctors who frequently report or treat vaccine injuries as dangerous and irresponsible pariahs, and systematically punishes them,” he wrote in “The Defender,” linking to an article by the Associated Press that doesn’t mention VAERS, but rather describes an Oregon pediatrician whose license was suspended after allegedly delaying or omitting standard vaccines and warning parents that they could lead to autism, citing a case in which one of his unvaccinated patients was hospitalized for nearly two months after contracting tetanus.

DESPITE THE NEWFOUND glut of vaccine information, Kennedy has made it his mission to spread “awareness” firsthand through his website and at private fundraising events like the one held at the Malibu Fig Ranch near Point Dume—an area he knows well. In 2014, Kennedy married former Curb Your Enthusiasm star (and longtime Angeleno) Cheryl Hines at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in a ceremony attended by various family members, including his brother Joe and mother Ethel, as well as Larry and Cazzie David, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The bridal party included Kennedy’s six children and Hines’s daughter. Kennedy had previously lived in the Mount Kisco area of Westchester County, New York. Soon after their wedding, the couple purchased a Point Dume compound comprising a four-bedroom primary residence, two guesthouses, a poolhouse, and a two-story tree house, in a community that includes Julia Roberts and Chris Martin, where residents bump down manicured streets on golf carts to the keyed-access beach Little Dume. When they sold that home three years later for more than $6 million, it was described as “reminiscent of a Connecticut compound with mature trees and beautiful landscaped flat grounds.” Their new house in Brentwood, reportedly purchased for $5.2 million, is a “Monterey colonial.” Hines, while active in fundraising for cerebral palsy research—and a one-time star of a whooping cough booster vaccine PSA—has seemingly remained quiet about her husband’s stance on vaccinations. Through a representative, Hines declined to comment.

“It is imperative for us to come together as we face the loss of so many of our personal freedoms,” wrote Denise Young, executive director of the Children’s Health Defense’s California chapter, in an email to Malibu Fig Ranch event attendees obtained by V.F. Those freedoms, she wrote, include “our choice over what we put into our bodies, uncensored media, and the right to transparency on the full effects of 5G and wireless products.” (The last is one of Kennedy’s newer crusades.) Malibu was a bastion of anti-vax sentiment long before COVID-19; in 2014, a local whooping cough outbreak aligned with a seriously lowered rate of vaccinations among children at Santa Monica and Malibu schools; that year and the next, measles outbreaks also hit California hard. (For context: From 1956 to 1960, before the introduction of the measles vaccine, an average of 450 Americans died of the virus each year, at a rate of about 1 in 1,000 reported cases. Between October 1988 and May 2021, just 19 petitions for compensation for an alleged measles vaccine-related death were filed.)

“The way we promote health, and the way public health agencies promote health, is to really focus on individual level solutions,” says Jennifer Reich, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado in Denver and the author of the 2016 book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines. “People are told that their personal behaviors can mitigate disease risk. What I’ve heard from parents a lot was, We’re really healthy. We eat organic food. I breastfed my children, which provided immune protection. This idea that somehow personal behaviors and hard work—or even vigilance to pay attention to who might be seemingly infected—could successfully prevent infectious disease is just scientifically untrue.”

In places like Malibu and Brentwood, where parents have time to obsessively google problems that have not yet arisen and disposable income for costly “information sessions” and alternative health professionals unlikely to be covered by insurance, the idea of hacking vaccines may be particularly compelling.

But the pandemic, Reich says, provided a perfect storm of disinformation. “Whenever we have a lack of formal information, those gaps will always be filled with informal information,” she says. “We had a White House who was committed to downplaying the severity of the disease. We had a CDC that was actually having their work rewritten to downplay the risk of the disease.” The question became, Who do you trust? “There was an early opportunity with COVID for those who oppose vaccines and who want to see distrust in public health institutions to fill that gap.” That, coupled with the fact that preventative care visits have been down during the pandemic and that it has limited our ability to interact with people outside what Reich calls our “information circles” of close friends and family, who are often like-minded—strangers on airplanes and coworkers at bars. “Now, if you want to talk to someone, you schedule a Zoom call with someone you know, or you go online and search for information, or go to Facebook.”

“The wait-and-see approach, when you have widespread infection, is not a neutral position in a way that it feels like it is,” she says. “What I found with my research on childhood vaccine hesitancy is that often omission feels safer than commission. Doing nothing feels like the safer path than doing something and then maybe regretting it.” This is a dangerous gut instinct to follow. As Reich points out, “The risk of anaphylaxis for the mRNA vaccines appears to be about 2.5 to 11.1 per million doses; we know the risk of infection [with the virus that causes COVID-19] is much higher than that.”

AND THEN THERE are the effects of disinformation on the most vulnerable to COVID-19. In March, the Children’s Health Defense film division released Medical Racism: The New Apartheid, available to watch on the CHD website. (Centner Productions, which coproduced, was founded by David Centner, who recently cofounded the private preschool–eighth grade Centner Academy in Miami. In April, his wife and cofounder, Leila Centner, sent a letter instructing teachers to report their COVID-19 vaccinations, telling teachers who’d gotten it before April 21 to physically distance themselves from students and banning newly vaccinated teachers from interacting with students.) The film flits between medical experts and academics describing historical atrocities, including the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study and J. Marion Sims’s unethical gynecological experiments on Black women, and personal anecdotes that range from poor treatment from doctors during medical procedures to accounts by several mothers who believe that their children’s autism was the result of a vaccine injury. Intercut between these interviews are man-on-the-street clips of Black Americans discussing the vaccine. “The danger in disinformation isn’t always just lies, but it’s a warping of truth to get to a specific end,” Harvard misinformation researcher Brandi Collins-Dexter has said of the film’s tactics.

“I do think the way that mass media was covering Black hesitancy and resistance almost indicted Black people,” says Melina Abdullah, Ph.D., professor of pan-African studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and cofounder of Black Lives Matter–Los Angeles; in Medical Racism, she provided context about Tuskegee along with her own experience of not being believed by her doctor about abnormal pain while giving birth. “It ignored this long history of betrayal and targeting of Black people through Western medicine.”

Historic atrocities coupled with firsthand experience have “caused us to not trust the medical establishment,” says Abdullah. “So when it’s pushed on us, it creates a state of conflict. At the same time we’re watching our community be devastated by COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.” She doesn’t identify as an anti-vaxxer, she just wants to provide context for the nuanced anxieties facing certain communities. “Are they trying to keep the vaccines from us? Are they trying to force it on us? Should we take it? Should we not? We hear people saying things like—and I might be one of them—‘Well, if I’m taking it, I’m only taking it in a white neighborhood.’ It’s really, really complicated.”

“We need more doctors who look like us and come from our community and understand what’s happening,” Abdullah says, noting that reconciliation, reparations, and increasing scholarships for Black youths to attend medical school are other important measures. “Some of the older folks that I know who were initially resistant to the vaccine—somebody who’s close to me said that they talked to their doctor, a young Black doctor that they trust, and that’s what convinced them to take the vaccine.”

Larry Robinson, Ph.D., the president of Florida A&M University, one of the eight HBCUs that received a combined total of $15 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support ongoing testing efforts, is attempting to serve as one such trusted member of the community. (This grant money is a source of suspicion in Medical Racism.) The university opened a community testing site at the football stadium on April 25, 2020—the first in the area, Robinson says, to allow tests without a physician’s referral. The Gates Foundation money went toward human resources costs for a new university COVID-19 virus testing lab that opened in May: funds for positions like a director of laboratory operations and a medical director. This was also made possible by an initiative by Thermo Fisher Scientific called the Just Project (named for the pioneering 20th-century biologist Ernest Everett Just), which provided more than $1 million in testing equipment and supplies. “I think that the Gates vision, and the whole concept,” Robinson says, “was to address the issue of disparity that the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly allowed the world to see, or to amplify through the disparity and impacts that have occurred in communities of color around the nation.”

“There are some historical issues that lead to distrust on the behalf of African Americans and the system, particularly when it comes to medical-related research,” Robinson says. He’s used his own body in an attempt to seed trust. In February, the university began offering vaccinations at its own center, then publicized Robinson’s shot. (After initial statistics showed Black Americans were more hesitant about receiving the vaccine, an ongoing Civiqs poll now shows that 72 percent of Black or African American registered voters who responded have already received the vaccine and 11 percent plan to get it, while 63 percent of white respondents have been vaccinated, and only 4 percent say they plan to.)

The late baseball icon Hank Aaron was hoping to do the same. “Makes me feel wonderful,” the 86-year-old told the Associated Press on January 5, following his first dose of the Moderna vaccine, administered at the Morehouse School of Medicine. “I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this, you know. It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.” When he died in his sleep 17 days later—by all accounts, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner, of natural causes—conspiracy theorists seized on the idea of a vaccine-induced death. Facebook applied a “Missing Context” label to Kennedy’s post on the subject and reduced its distribution.

Kennedy is a lawyer, and it shows in his word choices. “I never said that the Moderna shot caused Aaron’s death,” Kennedy wrote in a “Defender” post. “I simply made the factual observation that ‘Aaron’s tragic death is part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly closely following administration of COVID vaccines.’ ” In the post, he says that he spoke to someone from the county coroner’s office—whom he refers to by first but not last name—and they told him that nobody at the office had examined Aaron’s body or performed an autopsy. When contacted for comment, the Communications Division of Fulton County Government sent the comprehensive statement that had been issued following Aaron’s death which reads, in part, “One of our senior medicolegal death investigators responded to his home to gain details concerning the hours prior to his death, gather medical history, and examine his body…. The FCME Senior Investigator discussed with family members the events prior to Mr. Aaron’s death including his activities and the presence or absence of medical complaints. There was no information suggestive of an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to any substance which might be attributable to recent vaccine distribution. In addition, examination of Mr. Aaron’s body did not suggest his death was due to any event other than that associated with his medical history.”

HUMANS ARE A SPECIES driven by narrative. We search for an imposed order on a disordered world. It is natural to line up a series of known quantities in an attempt to draw the connections between them, how A plus B plus C gets to Z.

Here are some plot points on the graph of Kennedy: He was born into a family as famous for its lineage of prodigal sons as it is for its tragedies. In 1963, when he was nine years old, Kennedy’s uncle John was assassinated. Five years later, while Kennedy was attending Georgetown Preparatory School, his father was also gunned down just after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. Both murders inspired conspiracy theories. (In a Town & Country profile last year, Kennedy noted that he would testify at the next parole hearing on behalf of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of killing his father.) The following summer, his uncle Ted drove himself and Mary Jo Kopechne into a Chappaquiddick pond. Kopechne died; Ted was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence.

More: Kennedy’s aunt, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in part inspired by her older sister, Rosemary, who suffered oxygen deprivation during birth and was later subjected to a lobotomy; Robert F. Kennedy Jr. volunteered with the organization growing up. Public health advocacy is a Kennedy tradition: The Community Mental Health Act and Vaccination Assistance Act were both signed into law by John F. Kennedy, while former Democratic representative Patrick Kennedy is a leading advocate in the fight against opioid addiction. As are civil rights: Before his Instagram was shut down, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. posted a photo of his father speaking with Martin Luther King Jr.

The Kennedy clan is famous for its close-knit, circle-the-wagons mentality; it has closed ranks in the face of murder and statutory rape accusations, a secret annulment, and marital affairs. But in 2019, Kennedy’s siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II and niece Maeve Kennedy McKean wrote an open letter entitled “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines,” published in Politico. “We are proud of the history of our family as advocates of public health and promoters of immunization campaigns to bring life-saving vaccines to the poorest and most remote corners of America and the world, where children are the least likely to receive their full course of vaccinations,” they write. “On this issue, Bobby is an outlier in the Kennedy family.” In December of last year, another of his nieces, Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, an internal medicine resident physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, published an opinion essay in The New York Times. “As a doctor, and as a member of the Kennedy family, I feel I must use whatever small platform I have to state a few things unequivocally. I love my uncle Bobby. I admire him for many reasons, chief among them his decades-long fight for a cleaner environment. But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong.”

In 1983, when Kennedy was 29 and had been working as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, he was arrested for heroin possession after becoming ill in an airplane bathroom (he later pleaded guilty to the charges); his lawyer at the time said he was on his way to South Dakota to seek treatment for “a problem” with drugs. After five months of inpatient treatment, his lawyer said, as reported by The New York Times, that he was “working as a volunteer for a legal fund devoted to environmental concerns.”

In 1994, Kennedy married Mary Kathleen Richardson aboard a boat on the Hudson River. In 1998 they were among the cofounders of the Food Allergy Initiative; their son, Conor, has anaphylaxis peanut allergies. In 2010, Kennedy filed for divorce, and in 2012, following reports of alcohol abuse, Mary died by suicide.

Kennedy has a condition called spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes spasms in the larynx, or voice box, and affects speech. In a 2005 video, the condition is barely noticeable; by 2012, it appears pronounced. A page on the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation site labeled “Common Misunderstandings” lists “vaccinations cause dystonia” as one perpetuated falsehood. During the reporting of this piece, Vanity Fair sent a list of questions to Kennedy, one of which was: “Do you believe that you yourself, or any members of your family are the victim of a vaccine injury?” When Kennedy, through a representative, returned the questions with their accompanying answers, that was the only one that had been removed from the list. In response to a request for clarification, Kennedy replied directly, “I intentionally omitted it for reasons of complexity and privacy. When I embarked on this issue, I did not imagine that my life or my loved ones were impacted by vaccine injury.” Three minutes later he followed up: “Incidentally. We are in arguments next week on our Federal Facebook case in the Northern District of California and I am preparing a defamation suit against the Center for Digital Hate in the UK.” (N.B.: The name of the organization is Center for Countering Digital Hate.)

WE ALL BUILD our lives on the stories we tell ourselves. Some of us even make careers of it. When something is dangerous or abnormal or unusual—when a man of privilege, means, and education defies scientific fact and logic; when a child exhibits debilitating symptoms of a disorder for which there is no single proven cause—we are even more interested in seeking out its root.

At publication, 169 million Americans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. At the beginning of April—439 days after the first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed in the United States—I became one of them.

I drove into a Lord & Taylor parking lot in Stamford, Connecticut, a vaccination site operated by Community Health Center, Inc., where members of the National Guard directed cars through lines of orange cones. Through the rolled-down car window, a young man in fatigues informed me that they were administering about 1,800 doses per day. Along with my “Pre-Vaccine Questionnaire” (“Are you feeling sick today?” “Are you pregnant?” “Have you received a vaccine in the last 14 days?”) I received a fact sheet on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine I’d soon be receiving, which disclosed such information as the ingredients of the vaccine, the typical “risks” and side effects (“injection site pain…tiredness…nausea…” etc.) and the less likely severe allergic reactions that some have experienced (“difficulty breathing…a fast heartbeat”), and noted that “serious and unexpected side effects may occur.” It explained that while the vaccine is not FDA approved, it has received an emergency use authorization “based on the totality of scientific evidence available showing that the product may be effective to prevent COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.”

The fact sheet directs users experiencing severe reactions to call 911 or go to the nearest hospital, and to submit a report to VAERS; the next day, I received an email reminding me to check in with V-safe, the CDC’s online tool aimed at monitoring the vaccine’s potential side effects. If Kennedy’s aim regarding the COVID-19 vaccine really is to increase monitoring and transparency so that individuals can make their own informed decisions, he appears to be fighting a battle that’s already been won.”


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