Jan 24, 2017, APP: Kennedy, panelists, raise vaccine concerns at Red Bank forum
RED BANK - With a powerful new potential ally in the White House, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Tuesday that he wanted to develop a safer vaccine program that relied on scientific research and was free of influence from drug companies.
The environmentalist said children became increasingly sick and injured just as the number of vaccines given to them soared — a connection that is too strong to ignore.
"The institution that is supposed to protect these children, people are telling themselves the vaccine program is so important that we cannot even allow debate about vaccine safety," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was among a group of activists who spoke to about 350 people at The Two River Theater at a program sponsored by Fearless Parent, an advocacy group for parents whose ideas are at odds with the main stream. Front and center on Tuesday: They called on the government to give parents more choice when it comes to vaccinating their children.
Their position, long considered at odds with science, was given a jolt when Kennedy recently said President Donald Trump had spoken to him about serving on a commission to look at immunizations. Trump raised doubts about the impact of vaccines during the Republican debates.
The president's position alarmed many doctors. The American Academy of Pediatricians quickly responded by saying vaccines are among the nation's most important medical inventions, preventing countless illnesses and unnecessary deaths.
"The question is, is it safer to vaccinate your child or have them go unprotected?" Dr. Margaret Fisher, chairwoman of the Department of Pediatrics at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch said in an interview Tuesday. "To me, there’s no contest."
Advocates speaking before the conference said they weren't convinced that vaccines were appropriate for every child. They took particular aim at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's program that compensates families of children injured by vaccines. And they asked: Why would the CDC even need a program if vaccines are safe and effective?
Louise Kuo Habakus, a Middletown resident, said her two sons, now 16 and 13, suffered from gastrointestinal problems, rashes and allergies that she thinks were caused by immunizations; doctors never got to the bottom of it.
They since have recovered thanks in part to their restrictive diet. And she said she couldn't rule out other factors. But to her, the statistics were troubling: the incidence of autism, for example, has climbed to 1 in 45. The academy of pediatricians said studies have shown that autism isn't linked to vaccines.
But Kuo Habakus said the compensation program was a red flag. "I thought, how can you be recommending and mandating these vaccines to virtually all of our nation’s children and telling them essentially they are safe and effective, they keep your child safe and society safe, you must get them or your kid can’t go to school, and then quietly pay people?” she said.
Sarah Bridges, a psychologist from Minneapolis, Minnesota, agreed. Her son, Porter, had a seizure when he was an infant shortly after being immunized with a vaccine. He has autism and developmental delays. Now 23, the vaccine compensation program pays for his health care.
"I was pro-vaccine and I still am, 100 percent, but there’s a problem with a subset of kids as there is with any medication," Bridges said. “I do think there needs to be vaccine choice for families.”
A policy change that would make vaccines optional is dangerous, Fisher said, in part because parents who don't vaccinate their children put other children at risk. She said vaccines aren't fail safe, but nothing is. And she recalled treating a child who survived leukemia, but died from an illness that could have been prevented if she had been immunized.
"I think it's very important people have choice — when their choices don’t affect other people," Fisher said. "By choosing to not vaccinate your children you are putting other children at risk."
Kennedy, 63, spoke for about 30 minutes in a speech that ended with a standing ovation.
He said he had three vaccines when he was a child; his children had almost 70 doses each. And he pointed to a law passed in 1986 that made drug companies immune from vaccine lawsuits, setting off what amounted to a space race with billions of dollars at stake.
What ensued was a vaccine program that he said is rife with conflicts of interests and harming children.
Kennedy, known for his environmental activism, said his position on vaccines has put him at odds with friends who have fiercely supported his fight against climate change.
But he said his intent is the same. He would like, for example, to eliminate mercury from vaccines.
"I've been trying to get mercury out of fish for 30 years," he said. "People don't call me anti-fish."