In Depth: Peter Hotez On Texas’ Vaccine Rollout, Junk Science And The Risk Of A New Virus ‘Type’

As the pandemic surges in West Texas, the vaccine expert praised the state for trying to simplify vaccine distribution.

By Jill Ament, Laura Rice & Caroline CovingtonDecember 22, 2020 1:17 pm,

Texans are starting to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it can’t come soon enough as a new, and potentially more infectious version of the coronavirus, was recently detected in Britain.

Dr. Peter Hotez is one of Texas’ leaders in the worldwide effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. He told Texas Standard that large-scale vaccinations will help turn the tide of the pandemic, but misinformation, complicated government protocols and confusing communication about the risk of new “lineages” of the virus create roadblocks to public health. Hotez is dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and is co-director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Hotez was vaccinated last week, and supports political figures, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who are receiving the vaccine earlier than most because it sets an example.

“We need Republican leaders that are out there getting vaccinated. I think that’s really important. And this all comes out of this kind of fake health freedom, fake medical freedom movement that really began – it’s a national movement now, but it largely began in Texas around 2015. That’s when you saw the anti-vaccine, anti-science groups like Texans for Vaccine Choice really gain ascendancy. So I’m actually quite supportive of the governor getting vaccinated in a public way,” Hotez said.

West Texas Is A Hot Spot Right Now

Hotez says infection rates are high in Midland and El Paso, but the problem is also growing in the Panhandle and even in North Texas along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

“West Texas is still one of the worst affected parts of the country as well. … And if you look now, the Oklahoma, sort of on the Red River border there and up in North Texas, that’s also looking pretty ominous. So I think we’re going to be in for a pretty rough ride this this winter,” he said.

Texas Is Managing The Vaccine Rollout Successfully … So Far

Despite what he called complicated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hotez says Texas public health leaders have simplified their protocols to make vaccine distribution more straightforward and get it to the people who need it. Part of that included making the second phase of vaccines available to anyone over the age of 65 or those over the age of 16 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk if they contract the disease.

“Our health system, nationally, has already been shown that we cannot handle a lot of complexity,” Hotez said. “I thought the recommendations of Texas just simplified it enormously. … And I think that will go better than some of the more detailed outlines that came out of Atlanta.”

The ‘Medical Freedom’ Movement Threatens Vaccination Efforts

A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one of the largest groups to report vaccine hesitancy are Republicans – about 42% of them reported being wary of the COVID-19 vaccine. Hotez says that hesitancy goes back, in part, to vaccine-related political activity in Texas starting about five years ago.

What’s Going On In Britain?

A new “lineage” of the novel coronavirus was recently detected there, which led to UK travel bans to several European countries. But Hotez says it’s unclear how effective those travel bans will be at stopping the spread of this new version of the virus because we have learned over the last few months how easily the first version spread.

“The point that I’ve been making is, well, how do you know the virus isn’t already here? Because that lineage emerged late in the summer, so it’s been around for a few months. And we’ve learned that this virus travels pretty far, pretty quickly,” Hotez said.

He also says it’s unclear whether the new version is actually 70% more transmissible, as many are reporting. He says that is based on mathematical models, but not “experimental evidence.”

Can I Visit With At-Risk Family Members Once They’re Vaccinated?

Hotez says the vaccine will greatly reduce people’s risk to the coronavirus, but it never brings the risk down to zero. Also, he says it’s not yet known whether the vaccine prevents you from spreading the virus when you’re asymptomatic. Hotez has received the first vaccination, but some members of his family have not yet. He says that means he’ll continue social distancing as usual until they are all fully vaccinated.

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