The anti-science movement has set up the United States and the world up for a worse Covid-19 pandemic than otherwise would have been, infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez argued Thursday.
“An anti-science disinformation campaign of unprecedented magnitude and led by both multinational corporations and some governments, especially the Russian and US Governments, fuels the pandemic,” Hotez, dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, wrote in the journal Plos Biology.
“Although President Trump did not win reelection and the new Biden administration has vowed to mount an evidence-based pandemic strategy, the anti-science pursuits of the Trump White House and Coronavirus Task Force have caused serious harm,” Hotez wrote.
The essay comes as the US races to try to get a majority of Americans vaccinated by the end of the summer, an endeavor that depends on many Americans overcoming their skepticism of the rapidly developed vaccines to get the pandemic under control.
The Covid-19 pandemic arrived as the anti-vaccination movement had been amplified and politicized on the internet, Hotez said. He pointed to vaccine disinformation efforts both in Russia and the US that appeared to accelerate in 2014 ahead of the 2016 US presidential election that led to Trump’s presidency.
“During this time, the anti-vaccine movement began rallying behind medical freedom to counter the introduction of bills in the California legislature designed to close nonmedical exemptions for vaccines,” wrote Hotez, who has worked to develop vaccines, including for Covid-19.
He argued the anti-vaccination movement gained traction during the pandemic. Added to that were protests citing “independent choice” and” freedom” against face masks, social distancing and contact tracing. Fueling these sentiments, Hotez said, was “an active and unabashed anti-science disinformation initiative by the White House,” which he said included dismissing the severity of the virus and hyping treatments beyond their effectiveness.
The US leading the world in coronavirus cases and deaths can be attributed to a lack of a national coordinated effort to utilize face masks, social distancing, school closures, testing and contact tracing, he said.
Hotez cited a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington which predicted that if 95% of the public wore masks, 130,000 lives would be saved from September 22, 2020 to February 28, 2021. The model now forecasts more than 31,000 lives could be saved by May 1 with 95% mask usage in public, provided public restrictions and the spread of coronavirus variants don’t change substantially, the IHME says.
“Thus, anti-science disinformation that advocates shunning masks could inflict a mass casualty event in the US,” Hotez wrote.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte also cultivated “government-led anti-science campaigns, since known as ‘medical populism,'” that emphasized freedom and choice, Hotez wrote.
To counter these efforts, Hotez suggested that the US may have remove anti-science content and organizations from social media and e-commerce sites. He added that the US should form an interagency government task force to handle such matters, including representatives from all parts of government, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Homeland security.