Dr Susie Wiles MNZM is an award-winning microbiologist and science communicator at the University of Auckland.
opinion: Peter Hotez is probably one of the most important scientists you’ve never heard of. He is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and has dedicated his career to developing vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.
Like schistosomiasis, it is caused by the larvae of parasites that infect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
For more than a decade, colleagues at the Texas Children’s Hospital Vaccine Development Center, including Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi, have been developing vaccines for SARS and MERS, diseases caused by relatives of the viruses that cause COVID-19. I have also worked on development. So when the pandemic hit, it’s no surprise that Hotez, Botazzi and their team set out to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Their purpose was clear. To manufacture a low-cost vaccine and provide it patent-free to interested pharmaceutical companies. Then everyone in the world will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Sadly, they struggled to capture the billions of dollars spent on developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Instead, it has been forced to rely on private donors, including $1 million donated by Texas-based handcrafted vodka company Titos.
The good news is that Hotes, Botazzi and their team have been successful. They have developed a protein-based COVID-19 vaccine that can be easily manufactured using yeast, the microorganism that foams beer and makes bread rise.
Their vaccine has been successfully tested in India, Since then, it has been gifted to over 100 million people. They’re now working on a version that can protect against whatever Covid-19 variant the pandemic keeps throwing at us.
All of this goes a long way to show that Peter Hotez is a decent human being, someone who has spent his career producing vaccines to prevent diseases that kill the world’s poorest people. And he’s not in it for the big bucks.
As a vaccine scientist, Hotez has spent much of his time debunking vaccine misinformation. He has written a book and is active on social media. It is therefore not surprising that he has received considerable abuse and death threats.
Now, some of that abuse (including a confrontation at home) is due to him refusing to participate in a debate on vaccines with US presidential candidates. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.. Kennedy is well known for spreading completely untrue information and conspiracy theories about vaccines.
A debate is not the best place to discuss an important issue like a vaccine, and audiences are more likely to be swayed by persuasion and charm than by facts. And it assumes that what is being shared is not misconceptions or lies, but just facts. Arguments are often just a means to legitimize and propagate such misconceptions and lies.
As some have commented on social media, discussing someone like Kennedy is like playing chess with pigeons. The pigeons simply knock down pieces, clap on the board, and walk around as if they won.
Like Mr. Hotez, I was once invited to discuss vaccines with people who agreed with Mr. Kennedy, but I politely declined. And like Hotez, I too have been harassed and threatened For my communication efforts during the pandemic.
Unlike Hotez, I’ve been following you intermittently since early 2020. Documentary maker Gwen Isaac. It’s an unnerving experience when someone captures a slice of your life and you have no control over the story they choose to tell.
But Isaac’s story – a feature film called “Ms Information” – is one of 131 films showing at this year’s festival between now and September. New Zealand International Film Festival.
It would be weird and unsettling to see my life stripped naked on the big screen. But it is important for everyone to understand what happens to professionals like Hotez and myself when people like Kennedy are given the freedom to spread conspiracy theories and misconceptions.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/132538027/the-price-paid-for-standing-up-against-vaccine-misinformation.html The price we paid to confront vaccine misinformation