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.
By 2019, Kennedy was the leading buyer of antivax ads on Facebook, and was implicated in a measles outbreak in Samoa that infected 5,700 and killed 83. The outbreak followed the tragic deaths of two children who had received contaminated vaccines. Kennedy traveled to Samoa, and was pictured with a local antivax advocate. This was followed by Children’s Health Defense sending a letter to the Prime Minister of Samoa, urging him to question the general safety of the Measles, Mumps, & Rubella (MMR) vaccine. This tragedy echoed the measles outbreaks in Somali immigrant communities in Minnesota in 2011 and 2017.
The Somalis had been specifically targeted by the antivax propagandist Andrew Wakefield, whose falsified 1998 study started the still-lingering conspiracy theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism. More than a year before Kennedy lost his Instagram account for spreading medical misinformation, he used it to sing Wakefield’s praises, dubbing him “among the most unjustly vilified figures of modern history.” In 2021, the Center for Countering Digital Hate linked Kennedy on their list of the 12 influencers responsible for up to 73% of all antivax content on Facebook, and 65% of all digital antivax content overall. (Kennedy was reinstated to Instagram on June 4, 2023, on the grounds that he’s running for president.)