Mercury, Vaccines and the CDC's Worst Nightmare

RS: How did the CDC react to the revelations in the Verstraeten study?

RFK, JR: The vaccine branch called an emergency meeting of regulators from WHO, FDA, vaccine industry stakeholders and the American Academy of Pediatrics at the Simpsonwood Conferences and Retreat Center in Norcross, Georgia. They reportedly held the meeting off the CDC campus to shield the deliberations from freedom of information requests. During a frantic two-day debate, that group decided to embargo Verstraeten's study. The CDC then pushed Verstraeten aside and assembled a team of industry and CDC scientists to rework the study using dodgy statistical devices to make the autism signal disappear. After four increasingly deceptive iterations, that team succeeded in eliminating the signal linking thimerosal with autism and a half dozen other neurodevelopmental disorders. The CDC published that version and told the public that thimerosal was safe. When parents asked to see the raw data, the CDC claimed that it had somehow "lost" all the raw data so that no independent group could check this result.

RS: Right, that's when the CDC went into the business of creating its notorious phony epidemiological studies?

RFK, JR: Exactly. Over the next two years, the CDC worked with the pharmaceutical industry to gin up seven epidemiological studies that purport to exculpate thimerosal from causing the autism epidemic. None of these studies pretend to be safety studies. Each of them simply looked for the presence of a small number of designated diseases in specific populations exposed to thimerosal. All of them are fatally flawed due to improper methodologies or deliberate fraud. Nevertheless, these are the studies that the CDC lists on its website—and that its spokespeople regularly cite—to defend mercury in vaccines. It's worth noting that the CDC itself has so little faith in these studies that it derailed a scheduled 2012 review of their underlying science by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and killed a 2006 review of thimerosal safety by the National Toxicology Program. Under CDC pressure, the Institute of Medicine made the astonishing declaration, in 2004, that, based on those seven flawed studies, the science was settled and no new studies on the causative relationship between thimerosal and autism should be undertaken or funded. That declaration effectively cut off support for any scientist who wants to investigate the link.

RS: The CDC touts those seven epidemiological studies across the globe as evidence of thimerosal safety.

RFK, JR: Yes, and CDC and IOM officials left behind a very troubling email trail that makes it clear that those studies were deliberately manufactured to exonerate thimerosal. By the time I came across them, I was accustomed to dissecting research papers and spotting junk science. In my line, we call it "tobacco science" and the hired guns who generate it "biostitutes". The CDC's primary data manager on its widely touted Danish studies was a notorious con man and professional biostitute named Poul Thorsen, who actually pocketed the million dollars the CDC paid him to do the research. He is currently under indictment on 22 counts of wire fraud and money laundering by the U.S. Justice Department and is the star of the OIG's Most Wanted List. Thorsen is on the run from the FBI in Europe. Nevertheless, the CDC still uses Thorsen's studies as proof of thimerosal safety.

RS: Besides reading the science, did you do any kind of research?

RFK, JR: I also spoke to the leading researchers, like [University of Kentucky Chemistry Department, Chairman, Toxicologist] Dr. Boyd Haley, and I called the researchers and experts at the federal agencies to get help understanding what I was reading. I spoke to the IOM's Dr. Kathleen Stratton and pharmaceutical industry spokesman, Dr. Paul Offit.

RS: Well there's a pair of villains! How did the conversations go?

RFK, JR: Amicably. I had no antipathy toward either of them at that time. I had no clue about the pivotal role they both had played in deceiving the public about thimerosal safety. Both of them spoke to me willingly. Offit expressed admiration for my father, which is an effective way to butter me up. I asked them both the obvious question: "Why do we advise pregnant women to steer clear of fish because of neurotoxic mercury and yet inject much larger doses of mercury into pregnant women and babies?" They both repeated to me the thread worn industry canard that the "ethyl mercury in vaccines is not as dangerous as the methyl mercury in fish" which everyone admits is highly neurotoxic. Offit explained to me that ethyl mercury wasn't toxic because it leaves the human body so quickly.

RS: What was your reaction?

RFK, JR: By then, I'd read Burbacher's monkey studies which confirmed Offit's assertion that the ethyl mercury from vaccines rapidly left the blood. But, Burbacher had shown the ethyl mercury was not being excreted from the body as Offit implied during our telephone conversation. Instead, it was going directly into the brain, where it rapidly metabolized into highly toxic inorganic mercury, and then lodged there, creating inflammation and brain damage. Burbacher had shown that inorganic mercury remains in the brain for years. Instead of being evidence of its safety, as Offit represented, ethyl mercury's penchant for disappearing quickly from the blood was testimony to its extreme peril; it was disappearing due to the ease with which it crossed the blood-brain barrier! Ethyl mercury used in vaccines was both far more persistent and far more toxic than the methyl mercury found in fish. The Guzzi study, in 2012, showed the ethyl mercury was 50 times as toxic to cells. When I mentioned the Burbacher study to Stratton and Offit, they both went silent. It was obvious that they were aware of the study. THEY BOTH KNEW that science had refuted what they were telling me. They were accustomed to talking to journalists who seem to have an allergy to reading science and were content to parrot their reassurances.

RS: What did Offit say when you confronted him?

RFK, JR: Well, he clearly knew that he was lying and now he knew that I knew he was lying. There was a long awkward pause. Then he had this kind of Porky Pig "Epity, epity, epity, what?" moment after which, he launched into what is now, to me, a familiar Paul Offit soft shoe routine. He said, "Well, you're right, Robert, there is no definitive study. It's really a whole mosaic of studies…" And then, he had to go.

RS: What was Stratton's reaction?

RFK, JR: Stratton was much more candid. She just came out and said, "Well, obviously it's toxic. When you give it to mice, bad things happen and, when you give it to rats, they do weird things. It can't be good for humans. That's why we are taking it out of all vaccines!" I took the precaution of taping both these conversations, by the way.

RS: So, what was your response?

RFK, JR: In a single day, I had spoken to the two top advocates for the use of thimerosal in vaccines and I caught them both lying. A few days later, I heard Offit repeat his "good mercury/bad mercury" fib during an interview on NPR. I thought to myself, "This man is a thorough charlatan, a snake oil salesman and he has everyone flimflammed." That made me angry. After that, I learned that he was also venal.

RS: What do you mean "venal"?

RFK, JR: Well, my original assumption was that he was lying in service to the vaccine program. I later learned that vaccines were a lavishly profitable enterprise for Dr. Offit.

RS: How so?

RFK, JR: He is on permanent retainer to Merck to "right vaccine wrongs". And, both Merck and the CDC have rewarded his service with extraordinarily lucrative opportunities. In 1999, the CDC allowed him to sit on the committee that voted the rotavirus vaccine onto the schedule, even though he was working on his own rotavirus patent. Electing not to recuse himself, he cast his vote to add rotavirus to the schedule. That version of the rotavirus vaccine caused so many agonizing childhood deaths from intussusception that the CDC had to withdraw it a year later, making room for Offit's version, a turn of events that made him a vaccine tycoon. His rotavirus vaccine patent sold for $182 million; his cut was at least $29 million. When I learned about this caper and his other money schemes, I just thought, "Well, he's a hoodlum."

RS: He's also a misogynist and a bully.

RFK, JR: It's disturbing because the media treats him like a deity. And, like all bullies, he's a coward. He dismisses women who question him as superstitious hysterics. He lobs vicious bombs at the mothers of vaccine-injured children from the editorial pages and national TV shows which give him a platform for his poison. But, he refuses to debate me or anyone else who knows what they are talking about.

RS: Do you think, when Paul Offit says that babies could safely be given 10,000 vaccines at the same time, that he really believes that?

RFK, JR: I don't feel competent to psychoanalyze Offit. It's hard to look into another person's mind. And Offit's brain has got to be a really dark and scary zip code where I don't really want to spend time. In his defense, we all have some capacity for self-deception and it's possible that Offit is as gifted at deceiving himself as he is at deceiving the public. Upton Sinclair observed that, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." But I do think it's more likely that he knows that what he's saying is dishonest. For years, he claimed Bill Thompson's 2004 study was "the definitive proof" of thimerosal safety. He's been silent about that since Thompson disavowed his own study. That suggests a purposeful mendacity. Like a lot of other people, Offit seems to have made the self-serving calculation that all of the dead and damaged children are just collateral damage—unfortunate sacrifices in a program that serves the greater good.

Prev Page
Next Page
Show Comments ()
"Easiest to see are the larger and most tangible of consequences – the horrifying prospects of global warming, climate chaos, habitat destruction, rising and acidifying seas, breakdown of civil order, war and … extinction." Beth Scupham / Flickr

Love and Loss in the Anthropocene

By Elizabeth West

What can we do? We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us. Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I—one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion—honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?

Keep reading... Show less

Will Climate Change Make Your Hometown Full of Palm Trees?

By Dan Nosowitz

Palm trees. They're associated with places that aren't supposed to somehow get more snow on the last week in March, in violent opposition to that whole "out like a lamb" thing.

Keep reading... Show less
Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are developing hybrid electric commercial airplane plane. Airbus

Norway Aims for Electric Planes to Help Slow Climate Change

Norway—home to the world's highest per capita number of all-electric cars—is also planning to go emission-free in the friendly skies.

The Scandinavian country aims to be the first in the world to switch to electric air transport.

Keep reading... Show less
A massive sinkhole in Winkler County, Texas. Google Earth

Large Swath of Texas Oil Patch Rapidly Sinking and Uplifting, Study Finds

West Texas is already home to two giant sinkholes near the town of Wink caused by intensive oil and gas operations. Now, according to an unprecedented study, the "Wink Sinks" might not remain the last in the region.

Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas have found rapid rates of ground movement at various locations across a 4,000-square-mile swath around the two sinkholes. This area is known for processing extractions from the oil-rich Permian Basin.

Keep reading... Show less

Study Shows Some Pesticides More Bee-Safe Than Others, But Are Any Pesticides Eco-Friendly?

A study published Thursday in Current Biology is being hailed in a University of Exeter press release as a major "breakthrough" in developing bee-friendly insecticides. But some environmentalists think the research is asking the wrong questions to begin with.

Keep reading... Show less
Parks & Wildlife Service, Western Australia / Twitter

More Than 140 Whales Dead After Mass Stranding in Western Australia

More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay on the west coast of Australia early Friday morning.

Most of the whales did not survive after beaching themselves, according to Jeremy Chick, incident controller at Western Australia's Parks & Wildlife Service.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Tech Giant Microsoft Signs Largest Corporate Solar Agreement in the U.S.

By Katrine Tilgaard Petersen

Microsoft has announced the single largest corporate purchase of solar power ever seen in the U.S., signing an agreement with sPower to add 315 MW of electricity via two solar projects in Virginia.

Microsoft has been powered by 100 percent renewable electricity since 2014. In 2015, the tech giant joined RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, now bringing together 130 ambitious companies committed to sourcing entirely renewable power.

Keep reading... Show less

The New Government Omnibus Spending Bill Shows That Science Advocacy Matters

By Yogin Kothari

After a long wait, late Wednesday night, Congress posted a spending agreement for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year. For the most part, we achieved significant victories, especially given the challenging political environment, in repelling proposals that would have directly undermined the role of science in public health and environmental policymaking.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!