During a raging pandemic with a brand-new virus, influential doctors from prominent universities advocated for the mass infection of unvaccinated youth in the failed hopes of achieving herd immunity.
In an effort to unpack this physician-led misinformation disaster, I recently published a book titled “We Want Them Infected.” I catalog how vocal physicians from prominent universities embraced the anti-vaccine movement in the failed quest for herd immunity and blinded Americans to the threat of COVID.
The book title’s four words, we want them infected, come not from some random crackpot, but from Dr. Paul Alexander, an epidemiologist and official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration. On July 4, 2020, before anyone had been vaccinated, he said:
Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle-aged with no conditions, etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd [immunity]…we want them infected….
Dr. Alexander avoided euphemisms and spoke in plain language. His stated plan was to use unvaccinated young people as human shields to open everything up and “protect the vulnerable” via “natural immunity.”
Even after safe and effective vaccines were available for young adults and children, a small number of doctors, few of whom cared for COVID patients themselves, did everything they could to continue to ensure that unvaccinated young people contracted the virus. Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the Florida Surgeon General, even altered data to make the vaccine seem more dangerous than the virus.
This all had real-world consequences. While most young people did well, many thousands died, and countless others were injured. Much of this could have been avoided. According to one news article:
“Before 17-year-old Kennedy Stonum died of COVID-19 complications in California, family members say they begged her to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. “Myself and my wife and (her) grandmother pleaded, pleaded with her,” father Lee Stonum, of Orange County, told CBSLA. “I think like most teenagers, she felt indestructible. I know I did when I was that age. She didn’t know enough about the vaccine.
So she refused to get the shot, her family says. “I pleaded with her, actually. Probably not the right tone to take, but what do you do?” grandmother Marilyn Shea-Stonum, of Ohio, told ideastream public media. “And she would say politely, I’ll think about it. But her circle of friends, by and large, were not vaccinated.”
Influential doctors told Kennedy she was making the right decision, writing articles titled “The Ill-Advised Push to Vaccinate the Young” and “Covid Vaccines for Children Should Not Get Emergency Use Authorization”. Doctors made repeated errors of basic fact, repeatedly declared the pandemic over, and treated rare vaccine side effects as a fate worse than death.
We must reflect on how abnormal this is.
Before the pandemic, misguided parents sometimes sought out vaccine-preventable diseases for children based on the fringe advice of anti-vaccine doctors. For example, in 2019 the former Governor of Kentucky purposefully infected his children with chickenpox. He said:
“Every single one of my kids had the chickenpox. They got the chickenpox on purpose because we found a neighbor that had it and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it. They had it as children. They were miserable for a few days, and they all turned out fine.”
It’s good that his children turned out fine, but the chickenpox could be very dangerous for a small number of people. According to the CDC, during the first 25 years, the U.S. chickenpox vaccination program has prevented an estimated:
- 91 million cases
- 238,000 hospitalizations,
- 2,000 deaths
That’s a big deal. The Governor’s children didn’t have to be “miserable for a few days”, and it’s not normal for a parent to purposefully cause suffering to their children. Moreover, they have a risk of shingles later in life, for no good reason at all.
Prior to the pandemic, the few doctors who encouraged this sort of behavior were relegated to the fringes. For example, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who claimed that COVID vaccines magnetize people, said:
We’ve got to stop calling chickenpox and measles diseases, because they’re not. They’re infections, and infections come and go in a week to ten days, and leave behind a lifetime of immunity. A disease is something that comes and stays, and frequently can’t be cured. So when you vaccinate to avoid an infection, what you potentially are doing is causing a disease.
Dr. Kelly Brogan and Sayer Ji, both members of the “Disinformation Dozen” wrote an article titled “HPV Vaccine Maker’s Study Proves Natural HPV Infection Beneficial, Not Deadly” in which they argued that the best way to prevent complications from HPV infections was to get infected with HPV. If that sounds absurd to you, it’s because it’s absurd. It’s like using giving your money away to make sure no one steals anything from you.
It’s astonishing that this thinking became mainstream during the pandemic, especially considering SARS-CoV-2 was a brand new virus that had a lot of tricks up its sleeve. However, prominent professors from prestigious universities wrote articles titled “The Triumph of Natural Immunity” and “Should We Let Children Catch Omicron“. Doctors became cheerleaders for the virus because they wanted young people unvaccinated and infected.
You shouldn’t react differently to that today than you would have in 2019 if we were talking about measles, HPV, or any other vaccine-preventable disease. We Want Them Infected chronicles the influential physicians who continue to deny and minimize the damage caused by preventable Covid infections. A good title for a book was a deadly policy.
Jonathan Howard, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the NYU Langone Health and the Chief of Neurology at Bellevue Hospital.