News Release

“Anti-Vaccine Aggression”


Peter Hotez, winner of a Nobel Prize, discussed his new article––“The great Texas COVID tragedy”––with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Texas is “just behind California as the state with the most Covid deaths… but with a Texas population estimated at 29 million compared to 40 million people living in California, the proportion of Texas deaths is far higher.” 

Hotez estimates that approximately 40,000 of the 90,000 total Covid deaths in Texas have actually occurred after May 1, 2021, “when any American who wished to take [a Covid] vaccine could do so.” In the first three months of 2022, during the Omicron wave, “the CDC [found that] rates of death in the [U.S.] were 20 times higher among unvaccinated people compared to people who were vaccinated and had received a booster.” Hotez concludes that the vast majority of those 40,000 deaths were in unvaccinated Texans. 

    Hotez is a Nobel Prize-winning physician-scientist and global health expert. His patent-free vaccine, Corbevax, is currently in use in India. 

Hotez has had a “front row seat” to the rise of anti-science aggression in the last decade. Now, he writes that the term “red Covid… reflects the strong anti-vaccine activism promoted by elected officials on the far right and spread on conservative news and social media sites. The rhetoric derives from right wing politics around ‘health freedom,’ both a framework and propaganda tool, which accelerated in Texas in the 2010s for childhood vaccination mandates in schools.” 

Hotez described how––although deaths more or less halted in highly vaccinated communities after May 1, 2021––in undervaccinated places like Texas and in other parts of the southern U.S. and mountain West states, “the deaths had just begun.” 

Hotez is known for being a public enemy number one in anti-scientific circles; Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has called him an “OG Villain.” Hotez notes that experts talk a lot about the “Infodemic,” suggesting that misinformation and disinformation are random, isolated issues. But this is “organized and deliberate,” Hotez says; anti-science aggression has become a “core element of American politics.” As a physician-scientist, Hotez says that he struggles to talk about it. Doctors are supposed to be “politically neutral. But what do you do when this is so clearly about a partisan divide? Deaths are overwhelmingly occurring in red states. The redder the state, the more Covid cases and the more Covid deaths. Where is the horror and the outrage?” 

But Hotez says that even in some of the hardest-hit conservative communities, “they don’t connect the dots––that they were victims of this truly disgusting anti-science aggression. Presumably because they’re still in the rabbit hole.”

Hotez worries that the situation may get worse. This will be a “battle in the Texas state legislature.” Unfortunately, “the health sector doesn’t know what to do. It’s a political problem, with political origins.” Meanwhile, “the American Board of Medical Specialties is struggling” with how to respond to physicians who are weaponizing health communications by disseminating deliberately misleading information.” But this isn’t an academic problem, Hotez notes. We can’t solve it through more “behavioral research or social science. This movement has actors, political power, money, and nefarious designs… We’re not framing the problem as it needs to be framed.” Hotez says that our health sector leaders are “fumbling”––by relying, for instance, too heavily on social media companies changing algorithms. That type of reform “doesn’t get at the monster,” warns Hotez. “The monster is letting people die unnecessarily from vaccine-preventable disease.” 

Hotez also brought attention to the issue of long Covid, which occurs more frequently in patients with severe Covid; unvaccinated people are more likely to get severe Covid. “Beyond the 40,000” who lost their lives in Texas, Hotez says, there might be “hundreds of thousands of Texans with long Covid. This will haunt our state for years.”