Fact-Checking Robert Kennedy Jr’s (False) Claims About India’s Pulse Polio Vaccination Program & Gates Foundation
Someone recently forwarded me an article written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Chairman, Children’s Health Defense. Robert Kennedy Jr., as we all know, has made a career out of trying to disprove the medical science consensus on the benefits of vaccination with pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and outlandish claims.
The focus of Robert Kennedy Jr., anti-vaccination propaganda article is Bill Gates and Gates Foundation involvement in global vaccination projects.
In his article titled, “Gates’ Globalist Vaccine Agenda: A Win-Win for Pharma and Mandatory Vaccination”, Kennedy, not only doubles down on his paranoid, unsubstantiated, unscientific claims about vaccinations but he goes one step further creating new & false claims propping up Gates Foundation as the newest villain in his epic quest to rid the world of a super-villain — Vaccinations.
The article is so absurd I would have laughed it off, except for the fact that the article’s focus on pulse polio vaccination program in India.
Started in 1978 by the Indian Government, to vaccinate against polio, the program has expanded and evolved in both scope and ambition, culminating in the 1994 Pulse Polio immunisation program, where the Indian government pledged to achieve 100% pulse polio vaccination coverage.
On 27 March 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared India a polio-free country since no cases of wild polio had been reported in for five years.
It is a spectacular achievement of epic proportion and achievement any Indian should be proud of. I know I am! Hence, the article penned down by Robert Kennedy Jr. turned from being an absurd anti-vaccination rant to an item whose outlandish claims became personal.
Thus, I’m making it my business to fact check Robert Kennedy Jr. claims about India pulse polio vaccination program and Gates Foundation.
In the following sections, I have fact-checked line by line some of the assertions made in the article about pulse polio vaccination program in India and its relationship to Gates Foundation.
FALSE CLAIM 1 — BILL GATES DONATED $450 Million to India’s National Technical Advisory Group
Promising his share of $450 million of $1.2 billion to eradicate polio, Gates took control of India’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), which mandated up to 50 doses (Table 1) of polio vaccines through overlapping immunization programs to children before the age of five.
The 2017 article link provided by Robert Kennedy Jr. about Bill & Melinda Gates pledging $450 Million states the following:
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has announced public and private pledges totaling $1.2 billion in support of efforts to eradicate polio, including $450 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Note the first discrepancy in Kennedy’s claims. The date of the pledge is 2017, and the money was not promised to India’s National Technical Advisory.
FACT 1 — In 2017, Gates Foundation Pledged $450 Million to Global Polio Eradication Initiative NOT India’s NTAGI.
FALSE CLAIM 2 — India’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) has mandated up to 50 doses
First, one cannot mandate up to 50 doses, as Kennedy suggests. The correct sentence is mandated 50 doses, which should itself raise a red flag. However, even that claim does not hold up against the evidence.
First, Robert Kennedy Jr’s link to an article that is meant to substantiate his claim that Gates Foundation forced India to administer 50 doses of pulse polio vaccination is, in fact, a CDC review of the progress of the polio vaccination program in India. Nowhere does that article mention Gates Foundation or administration of mandated 50 does of vaccination
On the contrary, in 2004 Indian Health Ministry, not NTAGI, recommended an increase of upto ten dosages ( NOT A MANDATED UPTO 50 DOSES) in two of India’s most densely populated & poor states — Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Here is the reason for its recommendation that debunks Kennedy’s false assertions:
Until early 1990s India was hyperendemic for polio, with an average of 500 to 1000 children getting paralysed daily. In spite of introducing trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (tOPV) in the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in 1979, the burden of polio did not fall below that of the pre-EPI era for a decade. One of the main reasons was the low vaccine efficacy (VE) of tOPV against WPV types 1 and 3.The VE against types 1 and 3 was the lowest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the force of transmission of WPVs was maximum on account of the highest infant-population density. Transmission was finally interrupted with sustained and extraordinary efforts. During the years since 2004 annual pulse polio vaccination campaigns were conducted 10 times each year, virtually every child was tracked and vaccinated — including in all transit points and transport vehicles, monovalent OPV types 1 and 3 were licensed and applied in titrated campaigns according to WPV epidemiology and bivalent OPV (bOPV, with both types 1 and 3) was developed and judiciously deployed.
FACT 2 — In 2004, The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare not Bill Gates recommended eight to ten doses for each child as it became clear that in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar three doses of polio vaccine were not enough to develop immunity against polio.
FALSE CLAIM 3 — Indian doctors blame Gates Foundation for causing paralysis in 490,000 children.
Robert Kennedy Jr., claims:
Indian doctors blame the Gates campaign for a devastating non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) epidemic that paralyzed 490,000 children beyond expected rates between 2000 and 2017.
The link provided by Kennedy Jr., himself is a serious research paper that seeks to establish a correlation between Non-Polio Acute Flaccid Paralysis Rates with Pulse Polio Frequency for the period 2000–2017. After reading the entire document, here are essential caveats the researchers contend and acknowledge:
A) Correlation is not causation
It is crucial to note that a mere association with regression analyses does not prove a causal relationship. Aggregated variables examining cross-sectional data which have no bearing on what happens to individuals can result in ecological fallacies, and necessitates more in-depth analyses.
B) Between 2005 and 2012 rates of paralysis increased in two particular states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It started to decline in 2012 when the number of doses was reduced.
The highest NPAFP rates were seen in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where there was an increase of 2.7 cases of NPAFP per under-15 population of 100,000 for each round of pulse polio (CI 1.1–4.2).
C) The doctors recommend a reduction in the frequency of polio vaccination but not the elimination of polio vaccination —
The polio eradication programme succeeded in drastically reducing the global spread of this disease, which was achieved through the use of immunization with OPV. While commending this enormous effort at eradication, our observation supports the hypothesis that the frequency of pulse polio administration is directly or indirectly related to the incidence of NPAFP. It is hoped that this finding will help continue efforts at optimizing the dose schedule of OPV administration and result in a reduction in NPAFP — which is a feasible hope, as the incidence of wild polio is currently at an all-time low.
On the contrary, in another referenced news story, Raul Andino, a professor of microbiology at the University of California at San Francisco
found that the laboratory-weakened virus used in the oral polio vaccine can very rapidly regain its strength if it starts spreading on its own. After a child is vaccinated with live polio virus, the virus replicates inside the child’s intestine and eventually is excreted. In places with poor sanitation, fecal matter can enter the drinking water supply and the virus is able to start spreading from person to person.
The study thus introduced an intervening variable — poor sanitation facilities in developing countries — as a cause for paralysis from oral polio vaccination. Both the study and the article does not claim oral polio vaccination in itself as a cause for paralysis. The focus then should be on improving sanitation facilities in those countries, not ending the access to oral polio vaccination!
FACT 3 — NOWHERE IN THE RESEARCH PAPER DO DOCTORS BLAME GATES FOUNDATION. IN FACT, THERE IS NO MENTION OF BILL GATES OR GATES FOUNDATION IN THEIR RESEARCH.
FALSE CLAIM 4 — In 2017, the Indian government dialled back Gates’ vaccine regimen and asked Gates and his vaccine policies to leave India.
Based on the research paper provided by Robert Kennedy Jr., the paralysis caused by polio vaccination began to decline in 2012 not 2017, while India was declared to be polio-free in 2014. If Gates Foundation was blamed for 490,000 paralysis cases, then why did the Indian government ask the Gates Foundation to leave in 2017?
In 2017 Indian Government cut some funding ties with Gates Foundation on immunisation. Indian media at the time speculated two plausible reasons —
A) Gates Foundation came under fire in 2014 when a government committee report on Gates Foundation activities in India was published. The committee was investigating Gates Foundation funding activities of two entities that tested HPV vaccination on girls in India in 2009. The following summarises the facts about that case:
The girls were administered the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine in three rounds that year under the supervision of state health department officials. The vaccine used was Gardasil, manufactured by Merck. It was administered to around 16,000 girls in the district, many of whom stayed in state government-run hostels meant for tribal students.
A standing committee on health and family welfare that investigated the irregularities pertaining to the observation studies in India tabled its report a year ago, on August 30.
The committee found that consent for conducting these studies, in many cases, was taken from the hostel wardens, which was a flagrant violation of norms. In many other cases, thumbprint impressions of their poor and illiterate parents were duly affixed onto the consent form. The children also had no idea about the ..
However, the Government of India did not take any action based on the report's conclusion until 2017, giving rise to speculation that the Indian government decision was part of a broader clampdown on international non-governmental organisations including Greenpeace.
The decision is seen as part of India’s broader clampdown on non-governmental organizations to assert control over decision making in key policy areas. Last year, India ordered the dismissal of dozens of foreign-funded health experts working on public welfare schemes.
Even then the Indian Government did not cut ties completely —
When rumours started to circulate that the Foundation had been kicked out of India in 2017, the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a statement disputing those reports which stated that “Some media reports have suggested that all health-related collaboration with the Gates Foundation with National Health Mission (NHM) has been stopped. This is inaccurate and misleading. BMGF continues to collaborate and support the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.”
FACT 4 — Gates Foundation continues to work in India and fund various projects including polio vaccination. Government of India debunked the false rumours of expelling Gates Foundation with a press release contradicting false media claims.
Robert Kennedy Jr., not only makes false claims, but outright lied in his article now shared by millions of people across the globe. He is so sure of his delusional assertions that he even links essays and research papers that contradict his claims or debunk his contention as plainly false. While it is easy to dismiss people like Robery Kennedy Jr. as a delusional, paranoid or irrational minority their continued activism based on false assumptions in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus is turning into an existential security threat to societies. They need to be held accountable for their actions. Vaccination saves lives. Period.
Final Notes — Gates Foundation
Sadly, Robert Kennedy’s obsession with vaccination overshadowed several issues of concern about the Gates Foundation. Of particular interest is Gates Foundation funding of projects that violate human rights in developing countries.
Gates Foundation funding of projects with ties to pharmaceutical companies, for the clinical trials of experimental drugs, with potentially adverse side effects, in developing countries, is a cause of concern and deserves public scrutiny.
Part of the blame rests on developing countries governments who have failed to implement or enforce strict rules around human clinical trials. However, most of these pharmaceutical companies are domiciled in developed countries, whose population benefits from both research & development of drugs by these corporations. Hence, we need to hold them accountable and push for expansion of clinical trial regulation & better corporate governance practices.
In that context, we also must hold the Gates Foundation accountable and ensure their actions, even if benevolent, does not violate the rights of the citizens of developing countries.
In conclusion, we need to not only hold pharmaceutical companies, billionaire philanthropists and governments accountable but also protect the sanctity of scientific research and development of life-saving vaccination and drugs. Unfortunately, the anti-Vaccination movement is increasingly hijacking conversations on accountability to discredit scientific research on health-related issues.
We need to fight back with facts before the movement dooms us all, where no one is held accountable, and we no longer have access to life-saving medicine.
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