Deadly Outbreak: When RFK Jr's Vaccine Lies Killed Samoan Kids (VIDEO)
Hours after anti-vax Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testified before the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on Thursday afternoon, one of the nation's foremost experts on vaccinations reminded PBS News Hour's audience that Kennedy was at least partially responsible for a 2018 measles outbreak in American Samoa that left two infants dead.
Host Geoff Bennet kicked off the segment by introducing his guest — Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee — and giving a brief synopsis of Kennedy's fringe beliefs.
"So RFK Jr. is widely known as an anti-vaccine activist. He has a much larger platform now as he runs for president, he says that many of his views are misunderstood; they're taken out of context. Help us understand what he's been promoting and what the science tells us about it," Bennet began.
Offit elaborated on why Kennedy's contrarianism is so dangerous.
"Well, he's been promoting false information about vaccines," Offit replied. "He's been promoting the notion that vaccines cause autism, which is clearly not true, or cause a variety of other chronic diseases like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, or attention deficit disorder, and that's all not true. So what he does is by putting misinformation out there, he causes people to make bad decisions that put themselves and their their family at risk."
Bennet asked, "You also point to one episode where he spoke out against the measles vaccine. What was the impact of that?"
Offit recalled, "In Samoa, there were two children that died immediately following receipt of a measles vaccine. And the way it works in Samoa is they have an MMR vaccine in powdered form. It needs to be diluted in water. Two nurses made a mistake instead of diluting it in water, they diluted it in a muscle relaxant. Those children stopped breathing and died immediately. Now, very quickly, within two weeks, it was realized what that mistake was."
Offit then highlighted how Kennedy's conspiracy theories led to a precipitous plummet in the percentage of the Samoan population receiving inoculations to the highly contagious virus.
"It was a nursing error, but nonetheless, RFK Jr. seized on that. He flooded Facebook with the information that the measles vaccine is killing children in Samoa. He went to Samoa. He met with anti-vaccine activists. He met with senior officials in Samoa and kept the drumbeat alive that the measles vaccine was killing children in Samoa as a consequence," Offit continued. "Vaccination rates fell from 70 percent to 30 percent, and between September and December of 2019, there was a massive measles epidemic in this island nation of 200,000 people. There were 57,000 cases of measles and 83 deaths. Most of those deaths were in children less than four years of age. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had everything to do with that. And that shows you how disinformation can kill."
Kennedy's connection to the Samoan measles crisis was previously chronicled in 2019 by The Washington Post:
[Kennedy] visited the country in June, appearing next to officials at Samoan independence celebrations. His visit was 'for a program that is not government-related,' an official in the prime minister’s department told Samoan news media at the time.
Kennedy has asserted that vaccines cause autism, a claim disproved by extensive research. Members of the Kennedy family have publicly criticized him for helping 'spread dangerous misinformation.'
The World Health Organization estimated that in 2018, only 31 percent of infants in Samoa received the measles vaccine, a drop from 60 to 70 percent in previous years. The WHO attributed the extremely low rate in part to a public health scandal: Last year, two infants in Samoa died within hours of receiving the MMR vaccine. The country temporarily halted its vaccine program, but the vaccine did not cause the deaths. Two nurses improperly mixed the vaccines with a liquid muscle relaxant instead of water. The pair were sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter.
What happened in Samoa was not a unique occurrence, either. A measles outbreak there in April 2023 forced Governor Lemanu PS Maug to issue an emergency declaration that lasted through the end of May of that year.
ABC News reported at the time that more than 32 people had been infected. The outlet referenced the events of 2019, when "in American Samoa, there were 12 measles cases and no deaths reported. However, in the nation of Samoa, there were more than 5,700 cases and 83 deaths reported, most occurring in children under five years old."
MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan also dedicated a segment of one of his shows in June to this very topic.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
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