Robert F Kennedy Jr is part of America’s most famous political dynasty and regularly appears on stage as a keynote speaker, commanding an audience the way his uncle, JFK, or his father, Bobby Kennedy, once might have done.
But his message is much more problematic.
Mr. Kennedy is one of America’s leading anti-vaccine activistsand its popularity is skyrocketing.
As the Biden administration begs people to get vaccinated against covidespecially in states where less than half the population is the victim of a double whammy, Mr. Kennedy is spearheading the resistance.
the The United States was hit hard by the Omicron variant and there are around 145,000 people hospitalized with COVID nationwide this week, down slightly from last week but still higher than any previous surge.
Experts believe that one of the factors why the United States is still seeing record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths may be uneven vaccination rates.
Misinformation around vaccines infects certain populations and spreads online.
Kennedy claims CDC is ‘manipulating data’ on COVID jabs
In a rare interview with mainstream media, Mr Kennedy told Sky News that the CDC, the official US health protection agency, is a ‘puppet for Moderna and Pfizer’ which ‘manipulates data’ on COVID vaccines.
Similar lies can be found on the website of Mr. Kennedy’s nonprofit, Children’s Health Defense.
Visits to the website have skyrocketed from 150,000 per month before the pandemic to a peak of 4.7 million in August, although Kennedy says that figure is now closer to six million per month.
The website casts doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccine and amplifies rare cases of so-called “vaccine injuries” while simultaneously claiming that the CDC is manipulating real-world data that indicates the vaccine is safe.
Messages from Mr Kennedy’s charity ‘shared more often than news sources’
Research from Indiana University’s Social Media Observatory, which tracks vaccine-related content on Twitter, shows that posts from the Children’s Health Defense website are now shared more often on the platform than posts. mainstream sources of information.
Analysis of tweets using the word “vaccine” shows more shares on the Children’s Health Defense website than on any other site in the past week.
It has twice the share of the CDC, indicating the scale of the problem for those trying to tackle misinformation around the COVID vaccine.
“Robert F Kennedy Jr is probably the most notorious and prominent anti-vaxxer in the United States right now,” Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Sky News.
“He really shot up the rankings because he took advantage of that Kennedy name to attract people from both sides of the political aisle of the political spectrum.
“And what he was able to do was soften the message, bring some sophistication to the message, which is just old-fashioned nonsense that vaccines harm you or cause other diseases. .”
Increase in donations to Mr. Kennedy’s charity
Donations to Children’s Health Defense have also increased exponentially.
Filings with charity regulators show revenue more than doubled in 2020, to $6.8m (£5m).
According to tax returns, Kennedy was paid $255,000 (£212,000) by Children’s Health Defense in 2019 and $345,561 (£257,775) in 2020, an increase of more than $90,000 (about £67,000 ).
Asked by Sky News if he was profiting from a public health crisis, Mr Kennedy said: ‘If you are concerned that someone is profiting from a public health crisis you should get Pfizer or you should investigate Moderna and Silicon Valley billionaires.
“I donated all the profits from my books to the charity, so it cost me, it’s the opposite of the profits for me personally.
“I donated nearly $1 million in profits to charity, so I have a dramatic net loss.”
Mr Kennedy says he ‘saves lives’
When asked if he was putting lives at risk by amplifying misinformation around the COVID vaccine, Mr Kennedy bristled and said: ‘I know we’re saving people’s lives, and we’re saving democracy because children should not get this vaccine.”
He also said he did not believe that in some hospital COVID wards, up to 99% of patients were unvaccinated.
At a rally in Washington DC this month against vaccination mandates, Mr. Kennedy Jr compared the requirements for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States to conditions in Nazi Germany and said that people living under the Nazi regime “could hide in an attic, as Anne Frank did”.
He later apologized for his comments and his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, condemned the comparison.
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