This article is from an interview with Dr. Peter Hotez on NPR last month. The Tweet in the photo is from yesterday. Dr Hotez jubilantly taking a CoVax. I expect his tie to spin with giddy delight. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are starting to be delivered and administered as of this week. Imagine any doctor stating that we need to vaccinate THE ENTIRE WORLD POPULATION. What on earth is that? The assumption is safety and efficacy for billions, which is impossible nonsense. The reality is that the damage and danger is considered “worth it.” Vaccines are now a bona fide religion, a cult requiring compliance, no questions, no choice. MMR bows before CoVax as the new god on the block. This is a frightening road, no matter what your thoughts on vaccination, all, some, none. Never before has the world been told to fall into step like this, so fast. In 10 months, life has been radically changed and now we need a vacccine. Why does the mainstream accept this like the second coming of Christ? The new enemy is a virus that knows no nation, has no birthplace but is meant to instill fear from pole to pole, around the equator. And the United States, once the bastion of freedom and independence is marching proudly toward... what? This is NOT about anti-vax - it's about what has happened to our nation. Today we can blame President Trump. And in a month we can blame President Biden. Two pawns in a game I simply do not understand.
By Anne Dachel
Hotez makes it clear that we all need to be vaccinated against COVID.
This is not a time to be defiant. This is not a time to be reckless. This is a time to take this virus seriously and realize now we have an end to this through vaccination. 19:00
Remember ultimately we have to vaccinate the world’s human population, billions of people. 43:27
Furthermore, Americans not wearing a mask will cause thousands to die.
It says unless we can get to 95 percent mask wearing, we’re looking at another 150,000 who will lose their lives between now and a week or two after the inauguration. We have the stunning number in a terrible way of 400,000Americans losing their lives by a week or so after the inauguration. …
For me the tragedy is none of those people have to die if we adhere to 95 percent mask wearing, number one. 14:47
Hotez sees anyone questioning vaccine safety as a direct threat.
In his words:
We need to … start doing something about this very aggressive anti-vaccine movement that’s now morphed into a wide scale anti-science machine or empire or confederacy that really dominates the Internet and dominates our American life right now. We’ve got to figure out a way to begin dismantling that as well. 25:10
Dr. Peter Hotez is part of a team working to develop a low-cost COVID vaccine that could be distributed globally. "Vaccines are coming," he says. "We have to get everybody through to the other side." Hotez talks about vaccine development, the anti-vax movement, and what the year ahead might look like.
Introduction: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I’m Terry Gross with Fresh Air. Today we talk about the new vaccines that will hopefully get the pandemic under control. We’ll also talk about the anti-vaxxer movement which is getting international traction and is working to convince people not to get vaccinated.
I’ll speak with Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Topical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
He’s part of a team working on developing a COVID vaccine. He became the target of anti-vaxxers years ago when he started debunking beliefs that vaccines cause autism. His daughter was diagnosed with autism in 1994 when she was 19 months old.
Hotez is the author of a forthcoming book called Preventing the Next Pandemic, Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti-Science.
The new coronavirus vaccines are giving us hope that we can get the virus under control.
Pfizer and Moderna have announced that their vaccines are showing very promising results, and this week a third company, AztraZeneca, announced that the vaccine it’s developed had good results in its late stage clinical trials.
But for the vaccines to work, people have to be willing to get vaccinated.
My guest, Dr. Peter Hotez, is an expert in vaccines. He is working on the development of one for COVID 19, and he’s very well-acquainted with the anti-vaxxer movement. …
Much of his career has been devoted to developing vaccines for neglected, poverty-related tropical diseases. Texas, where he lives, is the epicenter of rare topical diseases in the U.S….
When a research paper came out that was later discredited connecting vaccines to autism, galvanizing the anti-vaxxer movement, he tried to debunk it. That made him a target of the movement. He wrote about that in his earlier book, Vaccine Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism—My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician and Autism Dad.
Dr. Peter Hotez, welcome to Fresh Air. …
Regarding the choice of which of the 3 vaccine we’ll be getting:
Dr. Hotez: I think at least in the beginning we’re not going to have much choice, but that’s okay because they all work pretty much by the same pathway. They all work by inducing an immune response to the spike protein of the virus and they’re just different technology approaches to achieving that.
One of the questions that I’m asked all the time is “Hey doc, which vaccine are you waiting for?”
And the answer is, I’m not.
They all work by inducing virus-neutralizing antibodies to the spike protein. That’s the best way we know to prevent us, if we’re exposed to the virus, from going into the hospital or the ICU.
I’m going to take any of those vaccines that’s made available to me, that’s authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Later on, if it turns out that the length of protection is not so long or if there’s better vaccines coming along, it’s okay. We can always get a boost later on.
But don’t over think it. Don’t wait. Get what vaccine you can because they all work by inducing virus-neutralizing antibodies into your system.
Terry Gross: I don’t really understand how the new vaccines can predict their effectiveness. For example, in the studies, the way I understand it, for AstraZeneca and Pfizer, they gave people vaccines. There was a control group that didn’t get vaccines, and then everybody’s told basically, go about your business, live like you’ve been living and then we’ll see who gets the virus and whether the virus is severe when you get it.
You can’t very well intentionally expose them to COVID. That would not only be unethical, it would be incredibly dangerous. You’d be risking the lives of everybody in the study.
But if you’re telling people just like, live your life and we’ll see what happens, well, everybody’s exposed to different things in their life so there isn’t consistency, there isn’t like a control of what like you’re exposed to. How can you really tell how effective the vaccine is?
Hotez: Well, thinking behind these large clinical trials—and we’ve got a lot of experience with this—is these are really big, so the Pfizer vaccine is being tested on 44,000 individuals, it’s almost like a small city.
So that yes, some people will change their behavior because they either got the vaccine or placebo, they don’t know which one they got, others won’t, but it kind of evens out ultimately. And what happens is, my understanding is this looking at symptomatic infections so that if you start developing symptoms that you think could be COVID, you get tested and that then counts for a case.
It wasn’t subtle. It looks like these vaccines provided very high level of protections, a 90 percent decrease or more in the cases. That’s really exciting.
Gross: So you’re working on a vaccine. What does that mean exactly? What is the work that you’re doing on it?
Hotez: At our Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, we’ve been doing this now for two decades: developing low-cost global health vaccines, mostly focused around disease targets that no one else wants to take on because when they’re complicated often, but second they’re diseases that generally only affect the poorest of the poor. We’ve made some progress in terms of shaping vaccines and getting them to clinical trials.
But then about a decade ago, we recognized coronaviruses were going to be of enormous pandemic potential, and at that time nobody was really very interested in coronavirus vaccines, so we adopted it.
We started partnering with the New York Blood Center together with the Galveston National Laboratory and Walter Reed. We wrote an NIH grant that was funded, and we wound up developing vaccines for the first coronavirus pandemic potential, SARS or SARS 1 in 2003 that emerged out of southern China, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, MERS. When we saw the sequence of the SARS 2 coronavirus that causes COVID 19, the Chinese scientist that put this up on a preprint server…, we realized that we could move pretty fast in terms of developing a third coronavirus vaccine for COVID-19.
Our scientists worked under incredibly difficult circumstances, … They worked day and night under difficult circumstances because, if you remember, back in the spring, they weren’t allowing many businesses to be open. We had special permission because we were working on COVID-19.
They worked in record time and building on all of the experiences, the successes and failures that we had with the previous coronavirus vaccines to move pretty quickly, and now we signed an agreement with BioE or Biological E based in India…and they are now scaling this up to 1.2 billion doses, testing it across India.
It’s very exciting for us to make a contribution. We’ve never made a billion of anything before, so that’s pretty exciting also, but the point is this is a very traditional technology. The same technology used to make the recombinant Hepatitis B vaccine used all over the world.
And that’s important for two reasons:
ONE, many countries have the ability to make their own Hepatitis B vaccine, so that potentially our vaccine could be make locally. It doesn’t depend on it being made in Europe or the U.S., and then filtering to the low and middle income countries. And it could be made pretty inexpensively we think so that Hepatitis B vaccine in many cases is made for under a dollar a dose. We think our vaccine could come along in a similar cost structure.
Gross: President Trump is taking credit for Project Warp Speed and for fast-tracking the vaccine research.
I’m wondering how much credit you give him directly as opposed to the career scientists at the CDC, NIH, NIAD. And maybe you could mention one or two of the things that you think he’s done wrong and done right.
Hotez: Well no question none of this would have happened without carefully thought out infrastructure by the National Institutes of Health and our fantastic research universities and institutes. That made all of this possible.
Exactly how Operation Warp Speed was assembled, I don’t have a lot of details about that. …
The only piece that I would say that has not happened that I would have liked to see more of is more of a communication strategy coming out of Operation Warp Speed. The communications has been very much left to the pharma CEOs, and I think overall they’ve not done a good job communicating to the American people.
First of all, too much reliance on press releases that over this past year have been sometimes hard to decipher or understand, too many leaked phone calls, too much weirdness about the stock trading and options.
I think that has undermined some confidence. I would have liked to have seen government scientists out there communicating on a frequent regular basis about Operation Warp Speed, very much like the way Andrew Cuomo did in March and April.
It doesn’t have to be every day, but on a regular basis.
I’ve done what I can to fill in those gaps being on the various cable news networks and podcasts, but you know, at the end of the day, I’m not a government scientist. I’m a medical school professor and call it as I see it, but I don’t have the accountability as being a government scientist.
I think that’s been a weakness.
Gross: So you’ve spoken about how scientists from competing pharmaceutical companies and your own group are cooperating with each other, at least to some degree, sharing information for the greater good.
President Trump on the other hand has been calling the virus, “the China Virus,” which is not in the spirit of cooperation.
He’s pulled out of the World Health Organization, also not in the spirit of that kind of cooperation that you’re talking about .
Do you think that has limited in any way what we or other countries are able to do in the development of a vaccine? What are the problems that may have been caused by, for instance, pulling out of the World Health Organization?
Hotez: I think the scientists are still sharing information and communicating at an international level. I don’t think that’s been too affected.
The thing that I worry about now is people have tied national identities to vaccines. In fact, there’s a new term that’s been coined called “växa nationalism” where you talk about the Chinese vaccine, the Russian vaccine, the British vaccine, the American vaccine. We’ve never had that before, and I think it’s counter-productive.
And so by the U.S. pulling out of the World Health Organization and refusing to be a part of the COVAX sharing facility, which our new mechanism that’s been put in place to provide global equity for vaccines, I think this has been counter-productive and could hold us back.
We also now have this unfortunate situation where countries that don’t have full access to vaccines are now making one-off deals with the Russians, the Chinese and it has kind of a Cold War smell to it. We have to fix that as well.
I’ve devoted my whole life to this concept of vaccine diplomacy, sharing vaccine development practices between countries and I served that role as U.S. science envoy in the Obama Administration. I think we have to get back to that.
Gross: The CDC recently released new suggestions about mask wearing. We had been told that wearing masks protects other people from you spreading the disease, from the mask wearer spreading the disease, but now we’re being told that ‘s it’s effective—not terribly effective, but somewhat effective—in protecting the person wearing the mask from other people who might be spreading the disease.
What’s your understanding about how much wearing a mask can protect you against getting COVID?
Hotez: We have new estimates now from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington really looking at the number of deaths that are going to be projected to result from COVID-19, and they’re pretty chilling numbers
It says unless we can get to 95 percent mask wearing, we’re looking at another 150,000 who will lose their lives between now and a week or two after the inauguration. We have the stunning number in a terrible way of 400,000Americans losing their lives by a week or so after the inauguration.
That’s basically the number of American G.I.s who died in World War II. We’re looking at those kinds of numbers.
For me the tragedy is none of those people have to die if we adhere to 95 percent mask wearing, number one.
Number two, social distancing, especially in times when there’s a threat of a big surge on intensive care units, because remember, that’s when the mortality figures go way up.
We saw this in New York in March and April. We saw it in southern Europe, in Italy and Spain in March and April. The death rates really accelerate as ICU staffs start to get overwhelmed and that’s already starting to happen now in the northern Midwest, in Lubbock and El Paso, here in Texas.
So just by those straightforward measures, social distancing, being responsible, wearing masks, we can save tens of thousands of American lives between now and the time of the inauguration. And that has to be our big emphasis.
One of the things that I’ve been trying to explain to general audiences is, look, in the past when I’ve asked people to wear masks and do the social distancing, prevent the ICU surges, I never had a bracket on the right hand size. I was never able to say that, look in the past I’ve said, please do this and we’ll figure out something later,
Now we have something concrete to say. We have good vaccines coming. If you can keep your mother or your father, your brother or sister alive just for the next two, three months, we can start getting them vaccinated, and they will live a normal life span.
This is not a time to be reckless or careless or defiant or tying political allegiance to protesting COVID prevention measures. This is a time to save the lives of your loved ones.
It’s been really exasperating when we’re seeing so many refuse to understand that straightforward point.
Gross: How soon do you think a vaccine will be available?
I’ve been hearing estimates. What’s your understanding?
Hotez: Pfizer is now applying for emergency use authorization. It’ll take two or three weeks for the FDA and the affiliated committees to review that information.
And I think vaccine could—we could start releasing vaccine to selected populations by the middle of December.
Remember other vaccines are coming along. We’ll have, following the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna, the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, in the U.S. we’ll have the J and J vaccine. So that by the early part of next year we’re going to move pretty quickly, I think, in vaccinating a significant percentage of the population.
Over the weekend, Moncef Slaoui, who heads Operation Warped Speed felt that we could reach herd immunity, meaning 70 percent of the U.S. population, through vaccines by as early as the spring. I think that’s a bit aspirational. I don’t think we’ll quite get there, but you get the idea. …
Gross: So your advice is don’t see this as an opportunity to take risks. What you want to do is make sure you survive long enough to get the vaccine. It’s a reason to protect yourself until a vaccine is ready.
Hotez: That’s right. It’s especially tragic if one of your loved ones loses their life or has permanent, long-lasting injury during this period because it’s just a matter of staying disciplined for the next couple of months, getting them to the other side. We get them vaccinated; they can live a normal life
This is not a time to be defiant. This is not a time to be reckless. This is a time to take this virus seriously and realize now we have an end to this through vaccination.
Gross: And this is especially important advice during the holidays.
Do you think people should like not go visit family and friends during Thanksgiving and Christmas as much as they want to?’’
Hotez: We all have to make some tough decisions. I know we like to be together. Families like to be together over the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holidays.
This may not be the year to do it with this much virus circulating in the country right now. Remember the U.S. is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of new cases.
And not only that, it’s even more defined than that. Right now it’s the middle part of the country, especially in the upper Midwest and in Texas. These are the highest COVID transmission rates in the world.
And what that means practically speaking is in any time you have a large gathering of people, whether it’s in airports, or bus stations or train stations or any public venue, there’s going to be lots of COVID infected individuals there.
This is not a time to travel. This is a time to prepare for future Thanksgivings and Christmases ahead by protesting your loved ones.
Gross: What are some of the things you’re hoping the Biden administration will do? And I know that you think federal guidance to states, to governors, is very important. It’s not something President Trump chose to do.
Why is that federal guidance important, and what kind of guidance are hoping the Biden administration provides?
Hotez: I think one of the most important is actually leading a federally coordinated response. I think what we saw all this year in the Trump administration was putting the states in the lead and the U.S. government would be responsible for backup, supply chain management and FEMA support and manufacturing ventilators and that sort of thing.
It didn’t work, and this is why the U.S. has led the world in terms of COBVID-19 deaths.
And the reason it didn’t work is the states never had the epidemiologic horsepower even know how to conduct COVID control measures. They also needed the political cover of the federal government to deflect from the attacks that they were getting from their own internal political opposition.
I think that having a federally coordinated response which the Biden administration seems committed to will make a big difference.
The other thing that I’ve recommended is given how disastrous the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been, particularly with Scott Atlas leading things and leading that aggressive disinformation campaign claiming that COVID-19 deaths were not due to COVID-19 but other causes or discrediting masks or fake concepts of herd immunity. I would say the leadership of the response needs to be taken out of Washington and put firmly in the control of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Move it to Atlanta. This is why the American people pay $11 billion a year in taxes to the CDC. Put them firmly in charge.
There may be some internal deficiencies that have to be corrected because we did see mistakes in 2020, missing the virus entry from Europe into New York, and the problem with the testing.
Fix that component, but put the CDC firmly in charge. I think it’s going to be really important.
And finally, if we’re really going to achieve that 70 percent herd immunity, which is what our estimates came up with together with our colleagues at City University of New York, led by Bruce Lee…
We need to figure out better ways to communicate about vaccines and the importance of vaccines and really start doing something about this very aggressive anti-vaccine movement that’s now morphed into a wide scale anti-science machine or empire or confederacy that really dominates the Internet and dominates our American life right now. We’ve got to figure out a way to begin dismantling that as well.
Gross: Any suggestions of how to do that?
You’ve been trying to debunk the claims of the anti-vaxxers for years. You haven’t succeeded yet.
That movement is stronger than it ever was probably.
Hotez: That’s right. It began, really took its modern form in 2015 under this fake slogans, health freedom, medical freedom and then expanded out of Texas, became a national movement headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who now publicly labels me the OG Villain because I wrote a book called, Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism, explaining why vaccines don’t cause autism.
But then that national anti-vaccine movement then took on new components to it. It not only now protested against vaccines, but in 2020 it now protests against masks and social distancing and contact tracing.
So it’s done a lot of damage in terms of preventing COVID-19 prevention measures, especially in the middle part of the country.
And we’ve even seen now it exported to Western Europe. So we’ve had now rallies in Berlin, in London, in Paris.
RFK, Jr spoke at the rally in Berlin, and CBS News and other news outlets reported it was linked to QAnon, a neo-Nazi group.
It’s taken on this very dark turn, and as I say, it dominates the Internet with more than 480 fake anti-vaccine sites all revved up social media and ecommerce platforms.
We’re going to have to figure out a way to confront this. It’s not enough just to fine tune our measure or promote pro-vaccine messages.
I say it will get us about 30 or 40 percent of the way there because those messages are messages in bottles floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
We have to do something about the Atlantic Ocean and begin taking down the anti-vaccine empire and confederacy.
Gross: The rally in Berlin that you mentioned that Robert Kennedy, Jr. spoke at, that was a rally of like 18,000 people protesting COVID restrictions, including mask wearing, and apparently very few people in that 18,000 large rally, very few people were wearing masks.
I know at one time that Kennedy opposed early vaccinations, believing that they were linked to autism, but I had no idea he’d become like an anti-mask or anti-COVID restrictions leader.
Hotez: Here’s the interesting part about the anti-vaccine movement. When you saw COVID-19 emerge, my first thought was, well, maybe finally this is what puts the anti-vaccine groups sort of into retreat or somehow sets them back. I think that happened for about 2 weeks, and then they came out and really reenergized, and then took on all anti-COVID-19 measures like social distancing, again under this fake banner of health freedom or medical freedom, and really revved it up and piled on the conspiracies as well.
You have, you know, Bill Gates is trying to implant chips into people through vaccinations and links with 5G that I still don’t understand.
Of course really going after the OG Villain, meaning me and going after Dr. Fauci.
And that’s the other scary element of this. It’s the targeting of scientists. So this is yet another dimension.
And then you have the fact that the Russians are using what’s sometimes called weaponized health communications and filling our Internet with …trolls and lots of anti-COVID prevention measures and anti-vaccine messages.
This has been reported on by U.S. and British intelligence. So that’s a big concern.
The problem is how do you talk about this in a way you just sound rational because, you know, as I hear myself speaking now and in the past when I’ve spoken about this, you know, you start talking about neo-Nazis and QAnon and Russia, you sound like one of those people that throws things at the TV and trying to explain it in a way that is convincing.
Gross: Right, where it doesn’t sound like you’re the victim, like you’re buying into conspiracy theories by saying Russia…
Hotez: I think it’s real, and we’re going to have to figure out a way—
And I think we’ve let it go so big because I think the attitude in the U.S. of the HHS agencies—because I’ve had calls where they, you know, I’ve been—I said, “Peter, why are you, you know, writing about the anti-vaccine movement? You’re just going to give this oxygen and amplify their message.”
I’ve said, “Look, that horse has left the barn. That ship has sailed. This is out there and it’s dominating the Internet.”
As I say, 480 fake anti-vaccine websites. If you go to Amazon.com, you put books up at the top, as everyone’s done, press return, you’ll get a scroll down menu at the left that says, health, fitness and diet.
You click that and then you get another scroll down menu that will allow you to select vaccinations. You click that and it’s all fake anti-vaccine books.
And now anti-COVID prevention books calling COVID a hoax.
Gross: Is there like a hidden agenda behind the anti-vaxxer movement? In a lot of movements, there’s money behind it, and the people with the money have a vested interest in promoting this cause for corporate reasons, for political reasons, for whatever reasons.
So is this like a funded movement? Is this a movement being led by people with some kind of motive that goes beyond COVID-19?
Hotez: Yeah, I don’t know that the anti-vaccine movement all speaks with one voice. That’s why I call it more of a confederacy than anything else. And where exactly the money comes from— There’s a lot of money behind it and organization as well.
It really needs a good investigative journalist to really push hard on this.
But clearly in some cases it’s coming from the extreme political right and traditional sources of funding for the political right, especially under this health freedom/medical/freedom banner.
I think that’s a big piece to this. I think the other is the Russian government’s doing a piece of this.
The health and wellness industry and all the supplements, in some cases the fake autism cures. I think they’re helping to fund this as well.
But it really needs to be more carefully looked at, and unfortunately I don’t have the time or the energy to take that on with all the other things I have to do. I think this is going to be really important.
And also I think if the U.S. government’s going to want to do something about this.
Now it’s gotten to the point where it’s going to have to go beyond the Health and Human Services agencies.
We’re going to need an inter-government task force to really look at this, and the problem is no one really wants to take it on.
And I don’t know the reasons they don’t want to take it on. I think clearly they see how I get beat up for it, and nobody wants to step into that too quickly.
And it’s complicated and it’s a hard slog, and there are other priorities I think people feel. I think it’s going to be very important.
Gross: So you’ve been a target basically since the anti-vax movement started because your daughter was diagnosed with autism. Was it 1994?
There was a research study that was debunked that said that childhood vaccines or infant vaccines could lead to autism.
Like I said, that study was debunked, but the belief lingered on that there was a connection.
You tried to debunk that belief, which made you a target of the anti-vaxxer movement.
Have the threats changed? Because you’ve been a target of threats since the early days, have the threats and the number of threats changed recently because of COVID?
Hotez: I think they’ve changed because of COVID, but also because I’ve been working on for 10 years. I have a much higher media profile on the cable news networks than I’ve had before. So that revved up the intensity in terms of the emails and the stuff you see on Twitter and other forms of social media.
So probably the volume and the amplitude has definitely accelerated over the last year.
And these groups have been targeting several scientists as well as people like Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates. This has been one of the dark sides of what’s been going on.
Gross: Oh, it’s really dark. To think that scientists like you and Dr. Fauci are being the targets of threats. It’s just horrifying.
It’s just so wrong and so shocking that that would be happening, but we all know that it’s happening.
So you got involved with this because your daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 19 months old.
Why didn’t you believe the theory that vaccines cause autism?
Hotez: Just seeing Rachel and her behavior and her developmental delays. It’s such a pervasive situation in terms of her capabilities.
In fact they used to call it pervasive developmental disorder, which was an appropriate term, I thought, ,for many forms of autism.
I couldn’t imagine a plausible mechanism as an MD/PHD physician/scientist, pediatrician./scientist. I couldn’t envision a plausible mechanism by inducing an immune response to a virus that could account for how global the deficits and other things that happened with something like pervasive developmental disorder or autism.
It just didn’t make any sense to me. So it always sounded odd from the beginning.
And then what you saw was the anti-vaccine people kept on moving the goal posts as the scientific community debunked the links. So the first link to be debunked was the links between MMR vaccine and autism.
And that was the original assertion from Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues in London, that it was the MMR vaccine.
Gross: That’s measles, mumps, Rubella vaccine.
Hotez: That’s right, measles mumps, Rubella vaccine.
And then they pivoted. They said, okay it’s not the MMR vaccine. It’s the thimerosal preservative that used to be in vaccines.
And then it pivoted again to spacing vaccines too close together, and then it was aluminum in vaccines.
And you realized that there was no science here. It was all a different type of agenda to try and stay relevant, and that still continues today.
I’d like to think I’ve done a pretty good job debunking the autism/vaccine links . Now you’re starting to see them even moving away from autism.
Now they’re calling it unspecified chronic illnesses. And how do you start going after that?
There’s clearly agendas other than—beyond genuine scientific inquiry.
Gross: Now that we have several vaccines in the works for COVID, do you feel like you can see an end in sight to the pandemic?
When you look ahead, what do you see say, in the next year?
Hotez: I think in the next year we’re going to have at least maybe half a dozen vaccines, maybe more. I hope ours is one of them.
We’ll be well on our way to vaccinating the U.S. population and Europe and Japan.
I don’t know about the low and middle income countries, how successful we’ll be, and that’s why we’re trying to come in with our low-cost vaccine.
But clearly we’ll make a big dent in this particular pandemic, although it may take us a couple of years to vaccinate our way out of it.
The other problem that I see is this will not be the last coronavirus.
We’ve now had SARS in 2003. We’ve had MERS in 2012. Now we have COVID-19. It’s just a matter of before we have COVID-26 or COVID-29 or COVID 32.
This is going to be a regular occurrence. So now we’re looking at the prospect of developing a universal coronavirus vaccine because I think there is going to be an important need there.
Gross: But what do you see when you look ahead in terms of our ability to resume something more closely resembling normal life?
Hotez: It’s not going to be a light switch. It’s going to be an evolving process.
We will be in a much better place by the spring, and then by the summer, we’ll even be in a better place. A year from now, I don’t know if it will entirely return to normal, but it’s going to be much better than it is now.
The reason I way it may not entirely return to normal is we don’t exactly know the performance of these vaccines in terms of reducing the amount of virus shed from our nose and mouth.
So some of the vaccines in clinical trials prevented death, prevented virus infection in the lungs, but some of the non-human primates and other animals tested still could shed a lot of the virus in their upper airway and mouth. So there still could be a fair bit of virus circulating and that means there could still be some need for masks and social distancing and contact tracing.
No question, life will be so much better in the next few months than it is right now.
Gross: With several vaccines likely to come out within a brief time of each other, do you think that one of those vaccines will be like the winner and the others will be the losers? Or should we be grateful that there are so many at the same time because they all have advantages and disadvantages? Some of them might be better for certain populations in certain areas of the world, and others that are for others.
Hotez: Remember ultimately we have to vaccinate the world’s human population, billions of people. And even the U.S. population is going to be pretty daunting. And there’s no one organization that has the ability to make all that vaccine for world.
So we’re going to need multiple different vaccines and the advantages of having different technologies, even though they all target the spike protein of the virus, is that some may work better over the long run in terms of length of protection or other issues. So it’s a tremendous advantage having all of these different technologies, all these different shots on goal.
Gross: How is your Thanksgiving going to be different from normal years, so called normal years?
Hotez: Well ordinarily I’d have all my four adult children together. That would be, that’s the aspirational goal, but my daughter lives in Los Angeles. She’s a research scientist at UCLA.I have a son who’s a musician in Tucson, Arizona. They’re both married. It would have been nice to see them, but I had to tell them not to come because that would require traveling through dangerous parts of the country in terms of where COVID-19 is really accelerating, especially in New Mexico and El Paso. …
Remember this is not forever. This is just for a few more months….
Vaccines are coming it’s just a matter of recognizing you have to get everybody through to the other side.