Who should debate RFK Jr?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. thinks vaccines kill children and cause brain damage. He thinks they continue to be given only because of a massive conspiracy between Big Pharma, scientists, and governments throughout the world. He ignores the benefits of vaccines and doesn’t seem to notice that we no longer see much measles or tetanus or whooping cough, that childhood mortality rates are lower than they’ve ever been throughout the world, and that vaccines have likely contributed to improved survival rates among children. He is not alone. Many people share his views that governments and scientists and drug companies use fear of disease to coerce behavior that fills the coffers of the drug villains.
The rapid development and roll-out of vaccines against COVID and the use of vaccine status as a way of restricting people’s freedom to go to work, restaurants, churches and theatres (but not, in many cities, to bars) was seen as proof that the conspirators were consolidating their iron grip on us.
Peter Hotez is a physician and scientists who develops and studies vaccines. He has spoken on television and podcasts and written books explaining why vaccines are safe, effective, and a crucial component of life in a healthy modern society.
Kennedy challenged Hotez to a debate. Hotez refused. Kennedy’s fans claim that the refusal shows that he is afraid that his arguments will not be convincing. Hotez’s fans say that refusal was the right thing to do because there can be no debate when the debaters do not agree on what counts as a fact.
I frequently counsel vaccine-hesitant parents in my pediatric practice. Unlike many of my colleagues, I enjoy talking to parents who are skeptical about vaccines. I want to share my understandings, to hear theirs.
The parent from whom I’ve learned the most is not one of my patient’s parents. It is the essayist Eula Biss. Her book, On Immunity, recounts her efforts as a mom to understand the risks and benefits of vaccines. She shows how a careful, loving, protective, non-ideological person could have reasonable doubts about childhood vaccine. The book took her five years to write. It took that long, she says, because she soon realized that debates about vaccines are about much more than vaccine safety and efficacy. She says, “This wasn’t just about vaccinations. It was also about our relationship to our government. It is about our fears and concerns about what is happening to our environment. We feel embattled by so many different forces, some environmental, some political, some social.”
So here’s a shout-out to @joerogan: Forget about Hotez. Invite Eula Biss to debate RFKJr. She would be a better opponent for Kennedy because she understands the fears. She is not a doctor or a scientist. She was skeptical. She did her own research. She, like he, gets the visceral connection between fear, trust, love, and decisions. She realizes that the data only gets you so far. She realizes that, ultimately, the choice about vaccination is a choice about how one wants to respond to the many apocryphal threats that the world makes toward us these days, and to choose a weapon to protect us from those threats.
I’d like to hear that debate. @joerogan – invite Eula Biss!