The actor participated in the panel, which promoted discredited claims surrounding vaccination, including the misconceptions that vaccines can cause autism and that high levels of mercury in immunizations can make kids sick. (Last year, De Niro revealed that his son Elliot has autism.)
Both claims have been disproven. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, there is no link between vaccines and autism. There are also plenty of studies and articles that support this fact. As for the mercury ― specifically thimerosal ― it is no longer used in children’s vaccines, and it hasn’t been since 2001. (The inactivated flu-vaccine is an exception, as Vox points out.)
While onstage, Kennedy said that vaccines have “caused the autism epidemic” and blamed journalists and the government for hiding the real truth about vaccine safety, according to Vox.
Kennedy reportedly spoke for 20 minutes about the dangers of vaccines, using a slew of studies he claimed proved his beliefs. According to the Washington Post, the environmental activist claims he is not anti-vax, but instead, in favor of “safe vaccines.”
De Niro seemed to be fully on board with his fellow panelist.
“I’m glad I’m here. I thought what Bobby said was great. It was eloquent. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I agree with him 100 percent. Thank you,” he said.
The actor has been sympathetic to the anti-vaccine movement in the past. Last year, he gave the go-ahead to screen the controversial documentary “Vaxxed” at the Tribeca Film Festival (which he co-founded). The film was directed by discredited physician Andrew Wakefield, and was eventually pulled from the festival lineup after immense backlash from the scientific community. Wakefield published his first study linking vaccines to autism in 1998, but was unable to prove his theory. The study was retracted in 2010 and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in the U.K. later that year.
De Niro continued to defend the film after it was excluded from the festival, telling the “Today” show last year, “I think the movie is something that people should see.”