|Founder||Robert F. Kennedy Jr.|
|Founded at||Washington, D.C.|
|Type||Non-profit advocacy organization|
|Robert F. Kennedy Jr.|
|Brian Hooker, Katie Wright, Mary Holland, Terena Thyne Eisner|
|World Mercury Project|
Children's Health Defense is an American 501c3 nonprofit advocacy organization, known for its anti-vaccine activism. Much of the material put forth by the organization involves manipulation of information and anti-vaccine propaganda. It was founded and is chaired by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Established under the name World Mercury Project in 2016, it has been campaigning against various public health programs, such as vaccination and fluoridation of drinking water. The group has been contributing to vaccine hesitancy in the United States, encouraging citizens and legislators to support anti-vaccine regulations and legislation.
Children's Health Defense alleges that a large proportion of American children are suffering from conditions as diverse as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, food allergies, cancer, and autoimmune diseases due to exposure to a variety of chemicals and radiation. The chemicals and radiation that Children's Health Defense has blamed and campaigned against include vaccines, pesticides, fluoridation of drinking water, paracetamol (acetaminophen), aluminum, wireless communications, and others. It has brought lawsuits targeting pesticides in food and agriculture.
Named the World Mercury Project until 2018, the Children's Health Defense is an influential anti-vaccine organization due to the prominance of its founder and chairman, Robert Kennedy Jr. On February 15, 2017, with other anti-vaccination activists and actor Robert De Niro at his side, Kennedy challenged anybody to prove the use of thimerosal is safe "in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women", ignoring a 1999 Food and Drug Administration study doing just that. Although the use of thimerosal in vaccines was phased out by 2001 (with one exception), this mercury compound is still often referred to by anti-vaccination groups. Overwhelming evidence indicates that vaccines are safe and effective. The 2018 tax return for Children's Health Defense indicates that Kennedy was paid $184,375 for his services as Chairman and chief counsel for the organization.
Kennedy met with Donald Trump in January 2017. While Kennedy claimed the President agreed to establish a commission to study the risks allegedly associated with vaccines, government officials denied any decision was taken and nothing subsequently came of it.
A study found Children's Health Defense was one of major buyers of anti-vaccine Facebook advertising in December 2018 and February 2019, the other being Stop Mandatory Vaccination. Heavily targeting women and young couples, the advertising highlighted the alleged risks of vaccines and asked for donations. According to an analysis by NBC News, the group is one of three major sources of false claims on vaccination shared on the internet, the other two being the fake news site Natural News and the website Stop Mandatory Vaccination.
Despite Kennedy's claims that he is in fact not against vaccines, several critics point out he and his organization spread common anti-vaccine arguments as part of their core messages. According to David Gorski, the World Mercury project was "a group dedicated to fear mongering over mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism and health problems". Kennedy has stated the media and governments are engaged in a conspiracy to deny that vaccines cause autism.
On May 8, 2019, while some areas in the United States were struggling with a resurgence of measles due to low vaccination rates, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Joseph P. Kennedy and Maeve Kennedy McKean publicly stated that while their relative Robert has championed many admirable causes, he "has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines."
On April 19, 2019, the Kings County Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit in which Robert Krakow, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Patricia Finn of Children's Health Defense represented five parents of unvaccinated children protesting the decision by New York City authorities to impose mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations for residents in parts of Williamsburg, as a response to the epidemic of measles in that area. The lawsuit was filed four days earlier against the New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene and its commissioner.
In his ruling, Judge Lawrence Knipel indicated that the arguments presented by the plaintiffs amounted to little more than "unsupported, bald faced opinion". Responding to Children's Aid Defense's claims that the city's reaction to a "garden-variety annual measles outbreak" was excessive, the judge pointed out that the documents filed as evidence in fact demonstrated otherwise. He concluded that "the unvarnished truth is that these diagnoses represent the most significant spike in incidences of measles in the United States in many years and that the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is at its epicenter. It has already begun to spread to remote locations."