Part of America’s most celebrated political dynasty, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. regularly appears on stage as a keynote speaker to dominate an audience like his uncle JFK or father Bobby Kennedy once did.
But his message is far more problematic.
Mr. Kennedy is one of America’s foremost anti-vaccination, and its popularity is increasing.
How the Biden administration is urging people to get vaccinated COVID, particularly in states where less than half the population is double-stung, Mr. Kennedy is leading the resistance.
the The US was hit hard by the Omicron variant and there are around 145,000 people hospitalized with COVID nationwide, down slightly from last week but still higher than any previous spike.
Experts believe a factor in why the US is still seeing record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths may be patchy immunization coverage.
Misinformation about vaccines is infecting certain populations and spreading online.
Mr. Kennedy claims CDC is “manipulating data” on COVID vaccinations
In a rare interview with mainstream media, Mr Kennedy told Sky News that the CDC, the official US health protection agency, is a “sock puppet for Moderna and Pfizer” that is “rigging data” on COVID vaccines.
Similar falsehoods can be found on the website of Mr. Kennedy’s non-profit organization, Children’s Health Defense.
Visits to the site have skyrocketed, from 150,000 a month before the pandemic to a peak of 4.7 million in August, although Kennedy claims that number is now closer to six million a month.
The website casts doubt on the vaccine’s effectiveness and reinforces rare cases of so-called “vaccine damage,” while claiming that the CDC is manipulating real-world data that suggests the vaccine is safe.
Posts from Mr. Kennedy’s charity ‘more shared than news sources’
Research by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which tracks vaccine-related content on Twitter, shows that posts from the Children’s Health Defense website are now being shared more frequently on the platform than mainstream news sources.
Analysis of tweets containing the word “vaccine” shows that the Children’s Health Defense website received more shares than any other website in the last week.
It has twice as many shares as the CDC, indicating the magnitude of the problem for those trying to combat misinformation surrounding the COVID vaccine.
“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is probably the most notorious and leading anti-vaccination in the United States right now,” Imran Ahmed, executive director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Sky News.
“He really shot up the league table because he used his Kennedy name to attract people from both sides of the political aisle of the political spectrum.
“And what he was able to do is tone down the message, put some sophistication into the message, which is just old-fashioned nonsense about vaccines harming you or causing other diseases.”
Growing donations to Mr. Kennedy’s charity
Donations to Children’s Health Defense have also grown exponentially.
Charity filings with regulators show revenue has more than doubled to $6.8m (£5m) in 2020.
According to tax returns, Kennedy’s received $255,000 (£212,000) from 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’re worried about anyone profiting from a public health crisis, you should get Pfizer or go against Moderna and the billionaires of the… Identify Silicon Valley.
“I gave all my book profits to the charity so that cost me, it’s the opposite of profits for me personally.
“I donated almost a million dollars in profits to the charity, so I have a dramatic net loss.”
Mr Kennedy says he is ‘saving lives’
Asked if he was putting lives at risk by reinforcing misinformation about the COVID vaccine, Mr Kennedy balked, saying, “I know we’re saving lives and we’re saving democracy because kids shouldn’t be getting this vaccine.”
He also said he doesn’t believe that in some hospital COVID wards up to 99% of patients are unvaccinated.
At a rally in Washington DC this month against vaccination mandates, Mr Kennedy Jr. compared the United States’ COVID-19 vaccine requirements to conditions in Nazi Germany, saying people living under Nazi rule “could be hiding in an attic, like it Anne Frank did”.
He later apologized for his comments and his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, denounced the settlement.