christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks at the state Capitol Tuesday (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — A panel discussion called “The Science of Vaccines” was canceled late Monday when two Yale doctors pulled out of the event, which was also going to feature Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer who founded an anti-vaccine organization.

Kennedy already was scheduled to speak at a forum titled “Should Vaccines Be Mandates?”  hosted by Reps. Anne Dauphinais, R-Danielson, Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, and Jack Hennessey, D-Bridgeport.

“The intent of the forum, to share science, was overshadowed by the negative attention,” Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said in a Facebook post late Monday night announcing the cancelation of the “Science of Vaccines” forum.

Hennessy said that the doctors were scared to be on a panel with Kennedy because they “just can’t back up the facts.”

Jillian Wood, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the forum was no longer going to serve the purpose of allowing lawmakers to ask difficult questions and get information.

“We cannot convince true anti-vaccine people their information is wrong,” Wood said. “We can only answer questions about scientific truth.”

She said “it’s hard to have an honest discussion with people who aren’t going to be honest back.”

Drs. Brett Lindenbach and Gene Shapiro were two of the four experts scheduled to appear on the canceled panel. 

The cancelation didn’t deter turnout at the other panel. Two rooms at the Legislative Office Building were filled with women and children Tuesday who came to hear Kennedy speak.

christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Members of the public voice their concerns about vaccinations during a panel with Robert Kennedy Jr. (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

“We’re here because we have vaccine-injured children,” Jen Kozek said.

Dauphinais said the most disappointing part of the day was that “Yale bailed.” She said lawmakers were looking forward to a two-sided conversation about vaccines and informed parental consent to vaccinate.

She said she’s not sure what Elliott meant by “negative attention.”

Kennedy suggested that no vaccine has ever been “safety tested.”

“None of them have been safety tested against a placebo,” Kennedy said. “That is criminal because nobody can say whether a vaccine is causing more harm than good.”

Wood said it’s hard to believe in vaccine safety if you don’t believe in the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has an Immunization Safety Office that identifies possible vaccine side effects and conducts studies to determine whether health problems are caused by vaccines.

Linda Niccolai, professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said the bar for vaccine testing is very high and if you don’t trust the CDC there’s more than enough evidence from health organizations around the world.

“Every vaccine goes through rigorous evaluation before and after it’s licensed for use,” Niccolai said, adding that there is a “vast body of research that has not confirmed any serious side-effect from vaccines in use today.”

She said she hears claims about children who have been injured by vaccines, but there is no causal relationship between the injury and the vaccine.

“There’s no evidence vaccines are causing those illnesses,” she added.

At one point during the press conference Kennedy asked all the women in the room with “vaccine-injured children” to raise their hands.

“It’s the press and the Democratic Party that aren’t listening to women,” Kennedy said to cheers from the crowd.

Kennedy apologized for Democratic leadership “who have chosen to listen to pharmaceutical companies,” instead of women who believe their children have been injured by vaccines.

“The facts in this debate speak for themselves,” Kennedy said.

He said there’s a difference between the scientific establishment and established science. He told reporters that they have to learn to “mistrust the CDC.”

He equated censorship about vaccines with the Catholic church’s problem with pedophilia.

“Today people in the press have to be guarded about persuading themselves that the CDC and the vaccine program are so important that we can’t entertain criticism of it,” Kennedy said. “That was the mistake everybody made with the pedophile scandal —  we can’t talk about it because people will lose faith in this important institution.”

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, promised on March 13 that in the next 12 months the House would debate legislation to eliminate religious exemptions for vaccines.

“It’s not fair to a child with a compromised immune system to have to go to school with those children,” Ritter said, referring to unvaccinated children. “You have to fight for those folks.”

He said they’re not saying a person shouldn’t have a strongly held religious belief that prevents them from getting a vaccine. He said the removal of the exemption would simply mean that they couldn’t enroll unvaccinated children in public schools.

Connecticut’s immunization rates have dropped slightly.

In the 2012-13 school year, 97.1 percent of kindergarteners were vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella. In the 2017-18 school year that number dropped to 96.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of measles cases being tracked nationwide by the CDC jumped 30 percent last week — from 206 on March 11 to 268 on March 14.

Thus far in 2019, the CDC has documented measles in 15 states including Connecticut, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

There are currently outbreaks — defined as three or more cases — in six US jurisdictions: New York’s Rockland County, New York City, and the states of Washington, Texas, Illinois, and California.