Vera Bergengruen at Time and Yahoo:
In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong. A leading anti-vaxxer is presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He has repeatedly compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust. Rolling Stone and Salon retracted an RFK article linking vaccines to autism.
While Kennedy did not directly mention vaccines in his announcement, it was clear that was not necessary for his most enthusiastic supporters. “This is the candidate for vaccine truth that promises to dismantle the vaccine deep state!” one popular right-wing anti-vaccine Telegram channel told its 81,000 followers on April 16, encouraging them to attend his announcement in Boston. “RFK may not be perfect but we know he’d take a wrecking ball to the pharmaceutical industry and vaccines,” one poster said on a popular pro-Trump forum. “Even Trump may not do that.”
Five days after launching his campaign, Kennedy alleged on Twitter that Fox News had let go of Tucker Carlson because the right-wing host had claimed “that the TV networks pushed a deadly and ineffective vaccine to please their Pharma advertisers…Fox just demonstrated the terrifying power of Big Pharma.”
But Kennedy is not the only presidential candidate employing anti-vaccine rhetoric. The pandemic and resistance to the vaccine mandates that followed provided a surge of momentum to the movement, and spurred a partisan split that turned support of vaccines into a political litmus test. While vaccine skepticism has been limited to longshots like Kennedy on the left—President Joe Biden is widely expected to coast to the Democratic nomination—more prominent contenders on the right appear to be courting it.
“I think Robert Kennedy Jr. is in a class by himself, because a huge portion of what he works on is opposition to vaccination,” says Joshua Sharfstein, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins. “I don’t think he’s credible within his own family, let alone you know, as a national speaker on the topic … More concerning is the Florida governor.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has fallen in polls recently but is still expected to challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination, has raised questions about the safety of vaccines in Florida. In December, DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a grand jury to investigate “wrongdoing” tied to COVID-19 vaccines. “I think people want the truth that I think people want accountability,” DeSantis said at the time. “You need to have a thorough investigation into what’s happened with the shots.”
A report this month from the Tampa Bay Time revealed that DeSantis’s state surgeon general had altered scientific data in order to justify his official position that young men should not receive the Covid-19 vaccine. DeSantis, who has criticized former President Donald Trump for deferring to public health officials like Anthony Fauci, has embraced conspiratorial talking points. He has suggested profits and not public health drove the Covid vaccine campaign and convened a state grand jury to investigate any “misconduct” on the part of drug manufacturers and the scientific community related to the vaccines.