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SOM Welcomes Dr. Peter Hotez, Vaccine and Science Advocate, in Global Health Seminar

Dr. Peter Hotez

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (HMSOM) welcomed one of the world’s most well known vaccine and science advocates, Dr. Peter Hotez, on Sept. 21.

Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Tx. - and during the COVID-19 pandemic became a nearly-ubiquitous presence on TV news in talking about the value of the new vaccines to save lives against the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Hotez gave a talk in the HMSOM amphitheater entitled “Global Vaccinations and the Antipoverty Vaccines: The Science vs. The Anti-science,” which echoes his brand-new book on the topic.

Hotez reviewed the historical success of vaccines - highlighting the fact that many infectious diseases feared for high mortality rates and lifelong impacts for survivors have been marginalized throughout much of the developed world.

“We still could do better - but boy, what an impact,” he said, showing a chart which indicated the under-5 child deaths over the last century.

But there are sobering realities in the developing world - and also right here, in the United States - brought into stark relief with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To address global inequities, Hotez and his team at Baylor - co-led with Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi - worked to produce a more affordable COVID-19 vaccine to distribute in places such as India and Indonesia. The vaccine eventually showed remarkable success over tens of millions of doses.

Yet from his vantage point in Texas, he maintains that the anti-vaccine movement has resulted in significant mortality. He estimates 200,000 preventable deaths of unvaccinated people in the U.S. due to COVID-19 infection.

“Texans needlessly perished because they refused a COVID vaccine,” he said.

The politics of anti-vaccination has risen in successive waves - starting with the 1998 claims that some vaccines caused autism, according to Hotez. But, the science has repeatedly debunked the continued arguments. Hotez himself wrote a book about his daughter Rachel, specifically titled: Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad (2018).

Anti-science and anti-vaccine movements are not so easily counteracted, despite the plentiful scientific evidence supporting the value of vaccines and other medical advancements.

“It’s first and foremost a political problem,” said Hotez, who showed some of the threatening emails and pictures he had received in his time as a public advocate for vaccination.

“Dr. Hotez is very much a defender of science,” said Stanley R. Terlecky, Ph.D., the HMSOM vice dean of research and medical sciences.

Hotez fielded questions from the scientists and health professionals in the audience, and concluded that he was unsure whether momentum had been lost in eradicating diseases through strategic inoculation campaigns.

The 100-plus attendees had the opportunity to socialize over refreshments shortly before the afternoon talk.

Hotez’s new book, which was released the day before his talk on the HMSOM campus, is entitled The Deadly Rise of Anti-Science: A Scientist’s Warning (Johns Hopkins University Press).

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