RFK, Jr, race and COVID-19

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, the notional Democratic presidential candidate, made himself even more foolish than he already was recently by speculating that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was engineered to protect people of Chinese and Jewish descent. Setting aside the fact that there is zero evidence that the virus was engineered and most evidence points to an animal origin, the notion that a virus could be reliably engineered to target specific ethnicities is risible. Furthermore, even stipulating that such a virus could be created, once it’s released there’s nothing preventing variants from arising that could infect the ostensibly protected populations. We’ve seen this movie before, folks. RFK, Jr, isn’t interested in virology or viral epidemiology, he’s interested in sowing ethnic strife. He deserves our scorn and contempt.

Why anyone would believe anything RFK, Jr, has to say about science or medicine is beyond me. He has been a long-time anti-vaxxer who subscribes to the discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. He is willing to repeat lies if it gets him votes and press coverage.

It’s certainly true that direct-to-consumer genomics companies like 23AndMe, Ancestry and Veritas (among others) can tell whether you have recent Chinese or Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors based on allele frequency differences between these groups and other human populations. But I don’t know of any evidence that any of these differences convey differential response to SARS-CoV-2, never mind whether the magnitude of the effect is overwhelmingly greater than the many other factors that influence the course of infection (high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, age, access to health care). And I’m certain that RFK, Jr, doesn’t either.

I’m sorry to even give the RFK Jr campaign any oxygen by bringing this up, but what he’s doing is dangerous to public health and to American society. It needs to stop.