Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s claim that COVID-19 was ‘ethnically targeted’ condemned and debunked

“That's an erroneous conclusion,” Daniel Dawes, executive director at Meharry Medical College’s Global Health Equity Institute, told theGrio.

Condemnation of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his false assertion that COVID-19 was “ethnically targeted” to spare specific Jewish and Chinese people intensified Monday with criticism from the White House press room and calls to rescind his invitation to a Congressional hearing.

Kennedy, the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and son of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, made the controversial comments during a recent campaign event in New York City. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. officially announces his candidacy for President on April 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

In an almost two-minute video published by the New York Post on Saturday morning, Kennedy tells a table of people, “We need to talk about bioweapons.” He proceeds to suggest that COVID-19, which killed more than 1.1 million Americans, “attacks” certain races disproportionately due to the virus’ “genetic structure.”

“COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people,” said Kennedy, who also previously pushed conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines. He continued: “The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.”

Researchers, doctors and his sister quickly slammed the presidential candidate.

“Beyond the absurdity, biological know-how simply isn’t there to make a virus that targets only certain ethnicities,” tweeted epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina.

And Monday, President Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, harshly condemned Kennedy.

“The claims made on that tape [are] false. It is vile, and they put … our fellow Americans in danger,” said Jean-Pierre. The Biden spokesperson condemned the comments as “racist and anti-semitic conspiracy theories.

“It’s an attack on our fellow citizens,” she added, “and … it is important that we essentially speak out when we hear those claims.”

Kennedy, during his remarks, conceded that “we don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted” but claimed that there are “papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact.”

COVID-19 disproportionately affected Black, Hispanic and other ethnic groups in the United States, but health experts have explained that social determinants, such as health care access and some pre-existing illnesses led to different recovery outcomes, not a specific or deliberate genetic virus composition.

“Many of us who’ve gone through COVID-19 work in the trenches of fighting inequities throughout the continuum realize that COVID did not discriminate,” said Daniel Dawes, a health policy expert who currently serves as executive director at Meharry Medical College’s Global Health Equity Institute.

Licensed practical nurse Noah Johnson administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose as part of a vaccination campaign on Aug. 17, 2021, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Licensed practical nurse Noah Johnson administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to a resident in Bordelon’s Pharmacy as part of a vaccination campaign organized by nurse Carla Brown on August 17, 2021 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Dawes told theGrio that “there is no evidence to sustain” Kennedy’s assertion that COVID-19 targeted certain racial and ethnic groups. “That’s an erroneous conclusion,” he added.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison also slammed Kennedy, who has a longshot chance of defeating Biden for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential election. 

“These are deeply troubling comments, and I want to make clear that they do not represent the views of the Democratic Party,” tweeted Harrison. The DNC declined to comment further when theGrio requested additional reaction.

Additional political fallout appears imminent as the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic watchdog group, called for the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government to disinvite Kennedy from an upcoming hearing. House Democrats followed suit in a letter sent to Republican House leadership.

Dawes, who co-authored a report on the health effects of COVID-19 on Black communities, told theGrio that there is great harm caused when political figures such as Kennedy spread misinformation about a public health crisis that wreaked havoc on Black Americans. He said misinformation about the virus was among the top three issues — if not the No. 1 concern — for public health professionals during the pandemic.

“Whenever you have someone who is pushing statements or pushing out comments that are not based on scientific evidence, it makes me extremely nervous,” said Dawes. 

The rapid speed of coronavirus vaccines’ development is adding to the equally fast spread of misinformation about them on social media. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

He added, “It does make me nervous that if we’ve never been able to tackle misinformation and tackle it well in this country — especially when it comes to vulnerable and minoritized, marginalized communities — then for the next pandemic, it could get even worse.”

Additionally, the public health expert said it’s critically important for the United States to get a handle on the “political determinants of health,” which he said are “instigated by law and policy.”

“If we don’t tackle these inequities from an economic and a national and even a moral argument, quite frankly, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble in the future,” cautioned Dawes.

After the public backlash, Kennedy attempted to walk back part of his remarks as it relates to Jews after the Anti-Defamation League called them “deeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.”

“I have never, ever suggested that the COVID-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews,” he tweeted.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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