MONTPELIER — A prominent member of the country’s most storied political family testified against the elimination of the state’s philosophical exemption for vaccines Tuesday, accusing the Centers for Disease Control of corruption as he made his case to lawmakers.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the slain former U.S. senator, attorney general and presidential candidate, told members of the House Health Care Committee that he supports vaccination. But he said some vaccines that contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound in some vaccines, can cause harm in children.
The CDC, Kennedy said, which determines which vaccines children should receive, has not done a proper job of protecting them and has bowed to pressure from pharmaceutical companies. He said the trillion dollar industry spends twice as much on lobbying as any other industry.
“I’m pro-vaccine. I’ve had all six of my kids vaccinated,” Kennedy told the panel. “I think we ought to have state and federal policies that maximize vaccine coverage of the population but I think we have to begin the process by making sure the vaccines are safe, efficacious and that the regulatory agency which recommends vaccines … and monitors them has integrity and credibility and, unfortunately, that is not the case at the moment.”
Kennedy, who received a raucous standing ovation from some people after completing his testimony, has been an environmental activist for three decades and has worked on the vaccine issue for the past 10 years. He spent most of his 15 minutes before the committee denouncing the CDC’s oversight of vaccines.
“CDC is a troubled agency. There’s been four separate, scathing federal studies about CDC,” he said. “All of them together and separately paint a picture of an agency that has become a cesspool of corruption.”
Kennedy accused the agency of manipulating studies to show that vaccines are more effective than they are, and that they do not cause harm.
“You could design an epidemiological study that shows that cigarettes don’t cause cancer or sex didn’t cause pregnancy. You just get rid of all the pregnant people or you get rid of all the people who have cancer and then you present your study,” he said. “That’s what CDC has been doing with these nine epidemiological studies that they point to.”
He also faulted Congress for creating a “shield” for pharmaceutical companies in 1989 “that suddenly made vaccines very profitable,” causing an increase in the number of recommended vaccines by the CDC.
“When I was a kid the vaccines were not profitable. They were not profit centers for the company. They were almost a civic duty. But now vaccines can add revenue of a billion dollars a year for some of these companies and there is tremendous pressure to add these vaccines to the schedule,” he said. “Most of the people who sit on those committees are vaccine industry insiders. Many of them, if not most of them, have direct financial stakes in the outcome of their decision to add the vaccine to the schedule.”
“What’s very difficult is for the people of our country or the parents of Vermont to believe that those decisions are being made exclusively with the health of their children in mind,” Kennedy added.
Kennedy said the philosophical exemption in Vermont and other states is important because other protections and avenues of recourse no longer exist.
“The Congress has taken away jurisdiction in federal and state courts of any case against the vaccine industry so nobody can sue them. There’s no discovery, no depositions, there’s no class actions, there’s no documents,” he said. “All those things that protect us are gone. The only thing left that protects that child from that company, the only barrier standing, is the parent. And now we want tot make the parent away.”
Kennedy told reporters after his testimony that parents should vaccinate their children with mercury-free vaccines.
In Vermont, six vaccines are required for children to attend school, including ones for polio, Hepatitis B, measles and pertussis, according to Christine Finley, the Vermont Department of Health’s Immunization Program chief.
Currently, all 50 states allow medical exemptions. All but two states allow religious exemptions and 19 states have philosophical exemptions. Only Mississippi and West Virginia have neither religious nor philosophical exemptions.