Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed at a congressional hearing Thursday that he has never urged the public to avoid vaccination – but he said less than two years ago that he had approached strangers in public places to tell them not to get their children vaccinated.
As he has before, Kennedy also declared Thursday that he is not “anti-vaccine” at all, merely a proponent of vaccine safety. In reality, Kennedy is one of the country’s most prominent anti-vaccine activists. He has for years used false and misleading claims to undermine public confidence in vaccines that are indeed safe.
Kennedy was a witness at a Thursday hearing held by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the supposed “weaponization” of the federal government. Kennedy claimed in his testimony that he not only has “never been anti-vax” – he said he is up to date on his vaccinations except for his refusal to take Covid-19 shots – but that “I have never told the public, ‘Avoid vaccination.’”
Facts First: Kennedy’s claims are false, debunked by his own words. He has promoted false claims about vaccines for years – and said in 2021 that he had personally urged strangers to refrain from vaccinating their babies. He encouraged others to do the same.
Kennedy’s anti-vaccine record has been extensively documented. He has long pushed the debunked claim that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Among other things, he has also misstated the contents of vaccines, falsely claimed there is convincing evidence that the 1918 influenza pandemic and HIV both originated with vaccine research, and repeatedly touted misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. In 2021, for example, he baselessly claimed that there had been a wave of “suspicious” deaths among seniors who had taken these vaccines.
It would be more than fair to argue that Kennedy’s years of false claims about vaccines has been tantamount to Kennedy urging Americans to avoid vaccination. But such an argument is not even necessary; Kennedy has explicitly said that he has urged people to avoid vaccination.
NBC News senior reporter Brandy Zadrozny noted Thursday that when Kennedy was asked on the “Health Freedom for Humanity” podcast in 2021 how parents should respond to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention schedule of immunizations for children, which his questioner described as “insane,” he responded by encouraging people to join him in telling strangers not to vaccinate their babies.
“For many, many years, I think parents were so gaslighted, and they were scapegoated, and they were vilified and marginalized, so that even parents of kids who were very, very badly injured, knew what happened to their kid, but they were just reluctant to talk about it. And I think now those days are over,” Kennedy said.
“We – our job is to resist and to talk about it to everybody. If you’re walking down the street – and I do this now myself, which is, you know, I don’t want to do – I’m not a busybody. I see somebody on a hiking trail carrying a little baby and I say to him, ‘Better not get him vaccinated.’ And he heard that from me. If he hears it from 10 other people, maybe he won’t do it, you know, maybe he will save that child.”
Kennedy repeated later in the podcast: “If you’re one of 10 people that goes up to a guy, a man or a woman, who’s carrying a baby, and says, ‘Don’t vaccinate that baby,’ when they hear that from 10 people, it’ll make an impression on ‘em, you know. And we all kept our mouth shut. Don’t keep your mouth shut anymore. Confront everybody on it.”
Kennedy has made similar but slightly softer comments in other forums. He said on another podcast in 2021: “Every one of us has an obligation to do a civil disobedience every day. And that could just be walking up to another person – a mother who’s carrying a baby, like I did this morning – and saying, ‘Before you vaccinate that baby, do your independent research.’”