In a “PBS NewsHour” interview, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. repeatedly denied previously saying that “no vaccine” is safe and effective. But Kennedy said exactly that on the Lex Fridman podcast in July.
Kennedy, who is a former Democrat, also repeated a favorite — but incorrect — talking point that vaccines are the “only medical product … that is allowed to get a license without engaging in safety tests.” As we’ve written before, when detailing many of the misleading or false claims Kennedy has made about vaccines while on the campaign trail, all vaccines undergo safety testing prior to authorization or approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Kennedy’s false statements about his past comments on vaccines occurred about two-thirds of the way into an interview with “PBS NewsHour” co-anchor Amna Nawaz, when he objected to her description of him being “part of the anti-vaccine movement” and having “controversial views on vaccines.”
Nawaz, Nov. 7: Let me ask you, if I may, let me ask you about a specific concern your family has expressed in the past, which is your controversial views on vaccines and being part of the anti-vaccine movement.
Kennedy: Well, what are my views on vaccines?
Nawaz: Well, you have said previously that no vaccine is safe or effective, which is…
Kennedy: I have never said that.
Nawaz: You did say that in a podcast interview in July.
Kennedy: No, I never said that.
Nawaz: You did say that. There are quotes, and that recording is there.
Kennedy: You are wrong. And you’re making something up.
Kennedy proceeded to deny saying “no vaccine” is safe and effective when he avoided answering Nawaz’s question of whether he believes in the statement.
Nawaz: So you do not believe the statement that no vaccine is safe and effective?
Kennedy: I never said that.
Nawaz: According to these reports and the recordings, you have, in a podcast interview in July.
Kennedy: That’s the problem. If you are reading reports about me in the mainstream media, including this network, they’re almost all inaccurate.
Kennedy ended the exchange by asking for Nawaz to show him “a statement, not evidence of a statement.”
Kennedy, in fact, made the claim in a July episode of the Lex Fridman podcast.
Fridman, July 6: You’ve talked about that the media slanders you by calling you an anti-vaxxer, and you’ve said that you’re not anti-vaccine, you’re pro-safe vaccine. Difficult question: Can you name any vaccines that you think are good?
Kennedy: I think some of the live virus vaccines are probably averting more problems than they’re causing. There’s no vaccine that is, you know, safe and effective.
At the time, Fridman pushed Kennedy on the issue, noting that those were “big words” — and asked about the polio vaccine. Kennedy then misleadingly suggested that the polio vaccines given to his generation caused cancer — despite a lack of evidence that this is true.
Kennedy: The polio vaccine contained a virus called simian virus 40, SV40. It’s one of the most carcinogenic materials that is known to man. In fact, it’s used now by scientists around the world to induce tumors in rats and guinea pigs in labs. But it was in that vaccine — 98 million people who got that vaccine, and my generation got it, and now you’ve had this explosion of soft tissue cancers in our generation that killed many, many, many, many more people than polio ever did.
So if you say to me, “The polio vaccine, was it effective against polio?” I’m going to say, Yes. And if you say to me, “Did it kill more people … did it caused more death than averted?” I would say, “I don’t know, because we don’t have the data on that.”
As we’ve explained before, a portion — but not all — of the approximately 100 million Americans vaccinated between 1955 and 1963 for polio received vaccines that were contaminated with SV40. But the virus, which causes cancer in rodents, has not been shown to cause cancer in humans. And there isn’t evidence that people who were vaccinated developed cancer at a higher rate than those who were not.
In the course of denying his past statements in the “PBS NewsHour” interview, Kennedy also repeated a go-to line about vaccine safety testing.
“I’m happy to say that my views are that vaccines should be tested, like all other medications are tested. They should have placebo-controlled trials prior to licensure,” he said. “It’s the only medical product, the only medical product or medical device that is allowed to get a license without engaging in safety tests.”
This is incorrect or misleading on several fronts, as we’ve explained before. All vaccines undergo safety testing prior to authorization or approval. But — just as with drugs — the safety tests do not have to be placebo-controlled trials that use water or saline as a placebo.
There are valid scientific and ethical reasons not to use placebos, such as when debuting a newer version of an existing vaccine. Moreover, numerous vaccines — most notably the COVID-19 shots — were in fact tested in placebo-controlled trials.
After authorization or approval, vaccine safety continues to be monitored, as no medical product is 100% safe, and even very large trials may not be able to detect rare side effects. This ensures the benefits of a vaccine outweigh the risks.
Clarification, Nov. 13: After publication, the Kennedy campaign objected to our statement that there is “no evidence” that polio vaccines contaminated with SV40 caused cancer. The campaign cited a 1994 study that found SV40 DNA in some tumors. As we said in our article, and have explained in more detail previously, SV40 has not been shown to cause cancer in humans, nor have people who were vaccinated developed cancer at a higher rate than those who were not. Some studies have found SV40 DNA in tumors, although this result may be due to contamination in the labs doing the testing – and such findings have been reported regardless of vaccination with a vaccine that contained SV40. The collective evidence, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has noted, does “not support the hypothesis that SV40 virus contained in polio vaccines administered before 1963 caused cancers” (emphasis is CHOP’s). We have revised our wording to clarify that there is a lack of evidence to support this claim.
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