It’s not every day you get to hear from a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, but LEAP students had just that chance yesterday. Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor of Pediatrics and Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine—and, most recently, developer of a vaccine against COVID—discussed the role of expertise and politics in addressing global pandemics in another interesting event hosted by the World Affairs Council.
Hotez has been in the trenches fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while also conducting perhaps 1,000 television, radio, and podcast interviews since the spread of COVID. Remarkably, he’s also had time to work with his co-researcher, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, Associate Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, in developing CORBEVEAX, a low-cost vaccine that protects against COVID. Notably, Hotez and Bottazzi did not patent the vaccine—foregoing millions in income to assure lower pricing for the medicine.
Hotez’s discussion was wide-ranging, but he stressed three major points: the origin of COVID, the politicization of medicine, and the future of pandemics.
Hotez believes it’s important to uncover the origins of COVID, but he finds conspiracy theories to be misguided. While it is possible, he notes, that COVID escaped from a lab in China, there’s no evidence for that theory, and pursuing it with much vigor is likely to distract researchers from the most likely answer, which is that COVID either developed from—or was spread through—a wet market in China.
What most clearly distresses Hotez, however, is the politicization of COVID…
…a thread skillfully navigated by the World Affairs Council moderator, Ronan O’Malley.
While prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaxxers could be found on the left and right, more or less equally, the right-wing of the Republican Party seemed to embrace conspiracy theories not only about the origin of COVID, but also about almost any US government efforts to combat COVID.
Some believed that COVID itself was a hoax wrought by the US government, while others accepted the threat of COVID, but believed that any medicine promoted by the government was part of a deep state/big pharma conspiracy for profits, leading to the misguided use of Ivermectin and other nostrums. Hotez noted that such beliefs led to more than a quarter of a million deaths of people who could have been vaccinated, but weren’t.
Hotez called this movement an aggressive, anti-science faction, and he considers this dangerous, not only as it relates to COVID, but also how it relates to the next pandemic. “Nature”, Hotez noted, “is not coy.
It’s sending us a clear message.” That message, it seems, is humans need to get it together, which involves not only identifying the origins and spreads of viruses such as COVID-19, but also winning an informational war about science itself. Fighting pandemics is difficult, but it’s infinitely more difficult when a significant portion of the population refuses to adopt common-sense approaches to fighting the pandemic.
Following the event, Dr. Hotez briefly met with us, asked us about our majors (History, Biology, and Political Science), and he suggested that it was about time he get to Sam Houston State University to speak, a point on which all of us agreed.
Following the event, with much on our mind, we went to Meru’s Grill nearby, and we discussed much of what we learned. None of us had been to Meru’s, but it was a great find: the staff were friendly and knowledgeable, the ambience was inviting, and the food was amazing. The appetizers, which included the “Avocado Bomb” and the “Smoked Salmon,” were refreshing and innovative.
The avocado bomb, for example, had raw Hawaiian Tuna, avocado (of course), a dressing, and possibly pineapple, a combination we weren’t expecting, but couldn’t get enough of. Our appetizers included two shrimp dishes, a Thai salad, and a burger, all of which were truly excellent in both taste and presentation.
Perhaps our favorite part of the meal, however, was the carrot cake dessert, recommended to us by our excellent server, and a truly delicious delicacy in the form of a square “slice” of cake, with icing unsurpassed in texture, flavor, and volume.
Meru’s Grill isn’t part of the medical field, but it definitely eased our worries and improved our spirits, topping off a wonderful night of education, good company, and great food.