Anti-vaxxers loathe Dr. Peter Hotez. In his new book, he mourns their unnecessary deaths.

Dr. Peter Hotez is no stranger to controversy.

A pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Hotez began taking on the anti-vaccine movement when his now-adult daughter was a child.

Activists blamed her autism and that of others on vaccines. Hotez, who develops vaccines for neglected tropical diseases, didn't buy it.

He took them on directly in his 2020 book "Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad."

In Rachel's case, Hotez showed that a rare genetic mutation caused her repetitive behaviors and communication difficulties. While not all autism can be explained by single genetic mutations, repeated studies over decades have shown no link between vaccinations and the later development of autism

Now, the anti-vaccine movement has moved on from autism and so has Hotez.

In a new book, published today, Hotez describes the expansion of the anti-vaccine trend to COVID-19 vaccines, and now to scientific expertise more broadly.

In "The Deadly Rise of Anti-Science: A Scientist's Warning," Hotez outlines the parallels he sees between this push and the anti-intellectualism promoted during the Nazi and Stalin periods of the 20th century.

Hotez compares the mass murders under those authoritarian regimes to the 200,000 Americans who died after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced, but who refused to get protective shots because they had been convinced not to.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

USA TODAY sat down with Hotez earlier this month to ask him to explain the anti-science shift he's documented and why he finds it so concerning. What follows is a lightly edited and condensed version of that conversation.

You say medical misinformation isn't just "random junk" but organized disinformation intended to mislead people. Can you explain what you're seeing and why it's different now?

It's well financed and it's politically motivated. It's a well-formed ecosystem. It's a killer movement and that's why it's important to talk about.

Now it's state sanctioned. That's the game-changer. It's fully enmeshed in American politics. It's a full-on adopted platform of political extremism.

The scale, the political organization, the state sanctioning and the level of death and destruction, that's what's different.

Who benefits? If they're really killing their supporters, that doesn't sound like a good long-term strategy.

Ultimately, it's self-defeating. But in the meantime, it's become an instrument for political control and oppression.

It's a rallying call for the base. It's a way of creating feelings of belonging and part of something bigger.

I don't care what your extreme beliefs are. That's your right as an American citizen. But somehow, we have to carve out the anti-science piece of this because it's killing too many Americans.

As a scientist, you say you are not comfortable being partisan, but clearly there's one political party most closely associated with this effort. How do you balance that?

All of our training as scientists says we're supposed to be politically neutral. I don't want to talk about it either. But if it means saving lives, we're backed into a corner and really have to.

People are quick to blame Trump, but it began before him and accelerated more after he left.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez has written a new book warning about what he sees as a concerning increase in anti-science sentiments.

Do you think the Biden administration could have responded better?

In April, May, 2021, vaccination rates stalled. That's when they tried to push for mandates, thinking that was a way to jumpstart it and that didn't go well. Then this became a political issue and the defiance started. Then, I just watched in horror as so many Americans especially here in Texas and other red states needlessly died.

If you go to East Texas, everyone you talk to has lost a loved one because they refused a COVID vaccine. That's where you start really seeing the devastation. That's a lethal societal force of enormous magnitude. But we don't explain it that way and that's where I sometimes get a little frustrated with the Biden administration.

How do you view people who believe this misinformation?

I see these individuals as victims of this far-right aggression.

If my car had broken down because of a flat tire and you gave me the choice to have that flat tire in Palo Alto, California, where Stanford (University) is located, or in East Texas, I'd pick East Texas. In Palo Alto, everybody would drive right by and in East Texas, people would be fighting over who would help you change your tire. These people are amazing people and they were targeted by political forces.

Do you see a way to restore public trust in vaccines?

In the past, there was an inherent auto-correction mechanism. When parents aren't vaccinating their kids, they see in their community kids hospitalized for measles and that will correct the situation.

This is not auto-correcting after 200,000 Americans needlessly perished.

What you're seeing instead is those politically motivated members of Congress and governors and presidential candidates are doubling down. Rather than pause for self-reflection, they're saying no, it wasn't COVID that killed Americans it was the vaccine and by the way the scientists invented the virus 

Its an attempt to revise history. This is what they do in authoritarian regimes.

I don't see this getting better at least until after the 2024 presidential election. The craziness just seems to be accelerating.

Why do you devote so much time and effort to this fight?

What part I planned in my life was to become a pediatric vaccine scientist. That was the plan 40 years ago. I'm making vaccines for parasitic infections and coronaviruses. I did it because I saw vaccines as the highest expression of science for humanity and I still believe that.

Now the flip side of that is you have anti-vaccine aggression. If you're going to save lives you also have to combat that as well, even though it's unpleasant.

Contact Karen Weintraub at

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.