Democratic presidential candidate and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is well known for his anti-vaccine stances. Amid his presidential campaign, Kennedy’s role in the 2019 measles outbreak in Samoa is being examined.

In a segment released last week, MSNBC News anchor Medhi Hasan explained how Kennedy perpetuated false claims about vaccine safety.

In October 2019, the government of Samoa declared a measles epidemic. By December of that year, almost 4,000 cases had been reported and the nation mandated a two-day lockdown; when the Samoan government declared an end to the epidemic, 83 people had already died, most of which were young children.

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In 2013, 92% of one-year-olds in Samoa were receiving the measles vaccine. In 2017, this number dropped to 67%, decreasing to 40% in 2018. The sudden decline in vaccinations was sparked by misinformation following the death of two infants after receiving their measles shots. Their nurses accidentally mixed a muscle relaxant into the vaccines instead of sterile water, quickly confessing to their mistakes and pleading guilty to manslaughter charges.

Despite the nurses’ admissions, anti-vaccine movements began pushing false narratives about vaccine safety. Samoa’s prime minister halted the country’s measles vaccination program in 2018, and did not resume administration until well after the outbreak in the following year.

In June 2019, Kennedy and his wife attended the 57th Independence Celebration in Samoa as guests of the prime minister. He spent a lot of time with the nation’s leader and discussed how his anti-vaccine charity, Children’s Health Defense, could help improve the state of Samoa’s health system, greatly influencing the prime minister’s opinions about vaccine safety.

As more and more children were dying, Kennedy sent the prime minister a letter urging him to investigate the cause of their deaths; Kennedy believed that people were not dying from exposure to the measles virus, but instead from exposure to the measles vaccine.

“Children who received the live measles virus during Samoa’s recent vaccination drive may have shed the virus and inadvertently infected vulnerable children,” wrote Kennedy in the letter, despite having no knowledge about how vaccines work.

During a speech in May 2019, Kennedy proclaimed that “nutrition and clean water” was what killed the measles virus, “not the vaccine,” though studies prove otherwise.

While he has retrained from discussing vaccinations on the campaign trail, Kennedy’s role in the measles outbreak in Samoa, and previous statements he has made linking vaccines to autism, are now resurfacing.

Although Kennedy is running for the 2024 presidency as a Democratic candidate, his vaccine beliefs appeal to conservative voters. Democrats and Republicans fear that he will divert votes away from current frontrunners, President Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

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