A leading anti-vaxxer is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Yesterday, he appeared at an "anti-mandate" rally in DC. In recent years, he has invoked the Holocaust, and he did it again this time. (His remarks were inaccurate as well as abhorrent. The Nazis did find Anne Frank, in Amsterdam.)
Kennedy apologized for the Anne Frank reference -- but not for his long history of spreading the lie that vaccines cause autism. That lie pervades the antivax movement.
The first person I met at Defeat the Mandates—a rally held in Washington, D.C. this past weekend in opposition, organizers and attendees unconvincingly claimed, not to vaccines but to vaccine mandates—was a well-composed woman named Maya, who had travelled from Michigan. A speech-language pathologist who works with autistic children, Maya was sitting with a small group of friends in front of a barricade at the Lincoln Memorial, wearing a yellow band bearing black text on her right arm.
Maya, who falsely believes that vaccines are the leading cause of autism, would not say whether or not she thought it was appropriate to compare herself to Jews living in Nazi Germany or Black people living under segregation and Jim Crow, though she did acknowledge that the unvaccinated are not being rounded up and murdered. “But we need to acknowledge the steps that get to that,” she said.
This was, nonetheless, deeply an anti-vaccine rally, complete with ubiquitous use of euphemisms like “medical freedom” (for an anti-vaccine stance) and “repurposed drugs” (for snake oil) to go alongside the preference for “anti-mandate” to take the place of “anti-vaccine,” which has taken on some of the stigma of a racial slur among people who are vigorously opposed to vaccines. Robert Malone, after invoking King, claimed that one in 3,000 vaccinated children will be hospitalized due to vaccine damage; Christina Parks, whose recently viral claims about vaccines have been thoroughly debunked, made the particularly repulsive claim that the CDC had covered up evidence that vaccines caused Black boys to be hundreds of times more likely to become autistic. (This particular false claim was a cornerstone of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, made by anti-vax luminary and disgraced ex-physician Andrew Wakefield, which gave extensive airtime to the claims of a “CDC whistleblower” named William Thompson, though Thompson himself never appeared in the film. While the history of Thompson’s statements is too tangled to unwind here, the claim that MMR vaccines led to an increase in autism for Black boys or anyone else has, at this point, been extensively debunked, yet it continues to live on, unchanged, at anti-vaccine rallies and conferences.)