May 8 (UPI) -- The debate over vaccines has driven a wedge through the Kennedys, with several prominent family members writing an op-ed blasting Robert Kennedy Jr. for his anti-vaccination views.
McKean, executive director of Georgetown University's Global Health Initiatives, is Kennedy's niece, while Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, and Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former congressman, are his siblings.
"We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment," the Kennedys wrote. "We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong. And his and others' work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences."
More than 700 cases of measles have been reported in the United States in 2019. In Maine, there were 41 new cases of whooping cough, another disease that had been largely eradicated. The problem is, the Kennedys said, many patients are more afraid of the vaccine than the disease itself.
"Americans have every right to be alarmed about the outbreak of measles in pockets of our country with unusually high rates of unvaccinated citizens, especially children," the Kennedys wrote. "Right now, officials in 22 states are grappling with a resurgence of the disease, which was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000."
An estimated 170 million children worldwide haven't been vaccinated over the last decade, the United Nations children's agency estimated. The biggest reason is the anti-vaccine movement, a UNICEF report said.
"The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. "The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike."
Vaccines are eliminating a wide range of other diseases, including mumps, rubella, hepatitis, tetanus, influenza and HPV.
President John F. Kennedy signed the Vaccination Assistance Act in 1962 to eliminate diseases in preschool-age children. Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy were both champions of healthcare and community health centers.
"Those who delay or refuse vaccinations, or encourage others to do so, put themselves and others, especially children, at risk," the Kennedys wrote. "It is in all our interests to make sure that immunizations reach every child on the globe through safe, effective and affordable vaccines."
Two Los Angeles area universities went into quarantine last month because of measles cases. The crowdfunding site Indiegogo banned anti-vaccine fundraisers in April.
A scientology cruise ship with 300 people on board was quarantined in the Caribbean Sea after a positive case of measles last week.