Dr Peter Hotez Addresses How to Optimally Overcome Antivaccination Sentiment

Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, FASTMH, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, and codirector, Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, addresses antivaccination sentiment and how to overcome it to find an optimal solution to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, FASTMH, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, and codirector, Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, addresses antivaccination sentiment and how to overcome it to find an optimal solution to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotez will deliver his keynote presentation, “Vaccine Hesitancy and How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” during today’s morning plenary session, “Innovating Our Way Out of the Pandemic: Vaccines and Therapeutics,” at the ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting.

Transcript

What are the most important takeaways from your keynote address?

One of the most important is the fact that we lost 100,000 American lives to COVID-19 just over the summer due to the Delta variant, and the fact that the overwhelming number of those 100,000 were not vaccinated, despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines. Clearly, one of the big concerns that I have is that people are defying vaccines, refusing vaccines, even though available, and the fact that we've had 100,000 American lives lost needlessly—because all of those could have been prevented. So, [I'm] talking about the rise in what we used to call misinformation, or disinformation—but what I'm really calling antiscience aggression—and identifying the sources of that. That's an important piece of this.

I think, also, looking at the beneficial impact of COVID-19 vaccinations, but also what's happening globally, because the vast majority of the vaccines have been given in the Northern Hemisphere—meaning North America and Western Europe—whereas the African continent, for all practical purposes, remains unvaccinated, as are many parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America. The question is, what do we do?

The problem with the mRNA and adenovirus-vectored vaccines is it’s a new technology. We still cannot scale it up to the level of providing [the] 9 billion doses of vaccines that are needed to fully vaccinate the Southern Hemisphere. What can we do now? We've developed a recombinant protein vaccine that could fill the gap and [I'll be] talking a lot about that, as well.

What is the most effective way to counter antivaccination sentiment?

I wish I had the magic wand to know. I think to answer that we really need to understand the realities of why so many people are refusing vaccinations. There's a lot of emphasis about the role of social media companies, especially Facebook; we're hearing that from the surgeon general. But that doesn't get to the sources of the disinformation or what I now call antiscience aggression.

I think we have to seriously look at those sources, which includes a group of more than a dozen nongovernmental organizations, which the Center for Countering Digital Hate refers to as the “disinformation dozen,” or monetizing the internet. Also, the aggression coming out of political extremism on the far right. We're hearing members of Congress claiming that vaccines are nothing more than political instruments of control. We're hearing this from some of the governors and conservative news outlets, and this is causing a lot of damage, as well. Those are the 2 big areas: the disinformation dozen and the nongovernmental groups, [and] the far right-wing aggression.

Even now we have some state actors that are using this to create [a] divide in our country, like the Russian government and the Russian propaganda machine. This has been documented by US and British intelligence. So, I've suggested that we need an interagency task force to really look at this in a more substantial way and recognize this is a killing force.

As I say, more than 100,000 Americans have lost their lives this summer from antiscience aggression.