My hospital, along with hundreds of others across the US and elsewhere, recently began to administer the first Covid-19 vaccines. My social media feed is filled with pictures of friends and colleagues, sleeves rolled up, writing about how much this vaccination means to them. In an otherwise dark time, it’s a moment of hope.
And yet, not everyone is celebrating the historic vaccine rollout. I stopped following my uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr. - a noted anti-vaccination activist - on social media in 2019, when he was posting misinformation about the dangers of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in the midst of an outbreak.
When I take a look at his Facebook page now, I find similar posts.”
Many Americans say they “probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.”
If this number holds, then Dr. Anthony Fauci’s estimate that at least 75 percent of Americans must be vaccinated for the country to achieve herd immunity, and effectively end person-to-person spread of the disease, could be unachievable.
I’m seeing the trend with my own patients. Two weeks ago, I convinced a 66-year-old woman to get her influenza vaccine for the first time in her life. But she said there is still no way she will take the Covid vaccine.
A 2019 study found that the over half of Facebook advertisements spreading misinformation about vaccines were funded by two anti-vaccine groups, including the World Mercury Project, which was founded by my uncle Bobby. The organization has since changed its name to Children’s Health Defense, and Bobby is chairman. For its part, Facebook is no longer allowing anti-vaccination ads on its platform.
I recognize, with some trepidation, that people may wonder why I feel I need to speak out publicly about vaccines. As a doctor, and as a member of the Kennedy family, I feel I must use whatever platform I have to state a few things unequivocally. I love my uncle Bobby. I admire him for many reasons, chief among them his decades-long fight for a cleaner environment. But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong.
His Facebook post linked to a dubious source - a website aligned with the Children’s Health Defense organization that publishes conspiratorially tinged stories on “Big Pharma” and “Big Food”.
The fact is that the Pfizer vaccine was administered to more than 20,000 participants in clinical trials; 15,000 participants received the Moderna vaccine. Both trials concluded that the vaccines were safe.
As Dr. Fauci said in a CNBC interview on Dec. 16, responding to concerns about adverse vaccine reactions: “Once you decide to dispense the vaccine widely you’re talking about millions and tens of millions and ultimately hundreds of millions of doses. So, you may see reactions that you didn’t see in the clinical trials.”
As of today, more than 2.1 million people in the United States have been vaccinated and only 11 have reported an allergic reaction. In comparison, a recent study showed 11 percent of all Americans have a food allergy and one quarter of them have been given an epinephrine prescription.
This is normal, and no cause for alarm. Serious side effects of the Covid vaccine have been extraordinarily rare, but health care providers are aware of them, and are responding appropriately by monitoring vaccine recipients, especially those who have a history of allergies.
It’s hard to express how momentous it felt to receive the Covid vaccine. I think back to the patients whom I cared for during the height of the pandemic in New York City last spring, when my hospital system had among the highest number of intubated patients of any health care center in the country.
There were times when I called my patients’ family members, and told them that their loved ones couldn’t talk because they needed an emergent breathing tube. I reached out over FaceTime to some of the same families when it was time to say goodbye to their loved ones.
We are now bracing ourselves as in New York our Covid-19 case numbers tick up once again. The pandemic is far from over. And yet, this vaccine is our best opportunity to save lives. There is no time to waste. Being a doctor does not make me a vaccine expert, but I know whom to trust: immunologists like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who have spent their whole lives studying vaccine development.
When the vaccine is offered to you, I urge you to take it. Do it for yourself, for your family and for your friends. Do it for your country.
Mary Kerry Kennedy is an American human rights activist and writer
The New York Times