Robert Kennedy Jr. wades into debate over mandatory vaccination bill

Activist and author Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks on stage during the New York City screening of "Trace Amounts" in New York last month.

Activist and author Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks on stage during the New York City screening of “Trace Amounts” in New York last month.

(Cindy Ord / Getty Images for Trace Amounts)

A measure that would eliminate the ability of California parents to keep their children from being immunized except for medical reasons gets its first legislative committee hearing Wednesday as activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. weighed in on the issue.

Hours before the hearing by the Senate Health Committee, Kennedy appeared at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to preserve the ability of parents to decide whether their children are vaccinated.

“This bill is premature because they are telling people they can’t opt out before we have a system that can protect them,” Kennedy told The Times in an interview. “The way to solve the problem is to restore faith in the regulatory system and faith in the safety of vaccines.” Kennedy raised some eyebrows at a film screening Tuesday by using the word “holocaust” to describe the damage done by vaccines to many recipients. On Wednesday he said he did not regret using the word, which he said he meant in the biblical sense of lives being sacrificed. “The autism holocaust has permanently consumed 1 million children in this country,” he said.


Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, has been outspoken in contending there are health risks, including development of autism, from flu vaccines that include the preservative thimerosal. The preservative is no longer used in many vaccines and major health studies have debunked the claim that vaccines cause autism.

A radio talk show host, Kennedy was also touting a documentary called “Trace Amounts” that alleges major problems in the nation’s vaccine program.

Leah Russin, a member of a group of mothers called Vaccinate California disputed Kennedy’s public comments questioning vaccination programs.

“The fringe anti-vaccine beliefs of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have been near universally rejected by the medical and scientific communities, public health advocates, and politicians and media of every stripe as both unfounded and dangerous to public health,” Russin said.

Later Wednesday, the Senate panel will hear testimony on SB 277 by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a bill that would eliminate the religious and other personal-beliefs exemptions for parents who do not want their children vaccinated before starting school.

Medical exemptions would remain in place for children with such conditions as allergic responses and weak immune systems.