Former U.S. science envoy breaks down vaccine controversy

By Alexandra Bebout | Contributor

Baylor University professor and former United States science envoy Dr. Peter J. Hotez spoke to a crowd of Baylor students on Thursday about the dangerous repercussions of the anti-vaccine movement and his personal experience as the parent of an autistic child.

Hotez spoke to the audience about his new book “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism,” which debunks a widely propagated theory that vaccines are responsible for causing autism. Hotez explained how a fraudulent paper published in 1998 suggesting vaccines caused children to develop autism produced a surge in anti-vaccine sentiment, which resulted in a measles outbreak across Europe in 2017 and 2018.

“We’re now in our 20th year of this vaccine hesitancy, of the anti-vaccine movement, and it came about because of this paper published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’ by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues,” Hotez said.

The professor told the audience about how the growing anti-vaccine movement produced a spike in the number of parents who decide not to vaccinate their children. Hotez warned the crowd about the dangers of refusing to vaccinate children, relating the example of a 2014 flare up of measles in California.

Frisco junior Kayla Miller enjoyed hearing his straightforward presentation of facts that disprove the claims of the anti-vaccine movement.

“It was definitely refreshing to see him present the overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that vaccines do not cause autism,” Miller said. “I grew up in a family that was very skeptical about vaccines, and hearing his talk makes me hopeful that we can have more awareness of how beneficial vaccines are for society.”

Hotez spoke of his experience raising his autistic daughter, Rachel, who was diagnosed at 19-months-old. He explained how his personal connection to the controversy motivated him to continue working to dispel the false notion that vaccines cause autism.

Fort Wayne, Ind., sophomore Aeleia Hughes attended Hotez’s talk and felt that his credibility on the subject was enhanced by his personal experience raising a child with autism.

“Since he’s already an expert in the field, I think it’s really interesting that he has a personal connection to everyone else’s major fear with regard to vaccines,” Hughes said. “I think it gives him a unique perspective.”

Hotez gave the example of a breakthrough attained by the creation of an HPV vaccination and expressed his frustration over the opposition it subsequently received from the anti-vaccine movement. He explained to the audience that while great strides have been made in developing vaccines, the greatest obstacle remains the reluctance of people to make use of them.

“Fewer than 35 percent of girls are getting their HPV vaccination,” Hotez said. “We’re basically going to condemn a whole generation of girls to HPV and cervical cancer, and over what? Over nothing.”