A growing refrain among vaccine skeptics is that they won't get vaccinated against COVID because a handful of health scientists have told them they don't have to.
Vuk Valcic / Sipa USA via AP
Robert Malone, the self-proclaimed inventor of mRNA technology back in the 1980s, has been among those celebrated by the far-right for voicing unproven concerns about COVID vaccines to his 280k+ Twitter followers.
Dr. Robert Malone
While it's easy to explain away an embittered, bruised-ego scientist, it's much harder to dismiss the significant majority of healthcare professionals who support the vaccines and the preponderance of evidence backing them up.
Enter the anti-vaxxer's latest unfounded claim: that most public health officials secretly don't support vaccines. In fact, a friend of mine recently made a stunning declaration she wholeheartedly believes: "Most experts are too afraid to speak up, but I suspect 9 out of 10 doctors would advise against COVID vaccines if you asked them privately."
Anti-vaccine sign with "NEVER" written across the logos of vaccine manufacturers
With that in mind, I began researching epidemiologists, virologists, health department directors, pediatricians, infectious disease experts, and public health officials. I deemed it important to find such people in all 50 states and in counties that leaned both left and right in case politics had tainted anyone's objectivity.
Doctor wears face mask and clear protective shield
In my research, I identified more than 200 such individuals, and, in the interest of taking up as little of their limited time as possible, decided to ask them all the same two yes or no questions with an invitation to elaborate if they chose to.
Healthcare worker fills syringe from a vial of Moderna's COVID vaccine
My two questions were simply whether they believed the benefits of COVID vaccinations outweigh any potential harms, and whether they'd recommended the shots to their own children if they had any in the 12-18-year age groups. Responses began pouring in almost immediately.
Over the next few days, I heard back from 203 of the doctors I'd reached out to. If my friend's unfounded suspicions were correct, 183 of them should have recommended against vaccination.
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Turns out the actual number against COVID vaccines was zero. And the number of vaccine experts who recommended the shots to me in our private, one-on-one interactions was a whopping 203.
None of the 203 responders raised a single concern about COVID vaccines for adults or for children. "The benefits outweigh the extremely rare harms by many miles," one biostatistics researcher told me.
What's more, many of the responders had a lot to say about the type of public health official who would use their academic credibility to steer people away from COVID vaccines.
Abner told me she doesn't actually know of any public health officials who have advocated against the vaccines; rather, the handful of fringe persons who have gained notoriety doing so are actually "lab scientists without any public health or epidemiological expertise. Being an expert in one area of science or medicine does not confer expertise in others."
One health department director in Idaho put it even more bluntly: "Any public health official who discourages vaccination isn't concerned about public health at all."