The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Vaccine doubters deserve answers, not dangerous lies

Robert Malone speaks at a rally on the National Mall on Jan. 23. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)
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Science is a journey in pursuit of truth, often extracted from confounding unknowns. In the midst of the worst public health disaster in a century, the scientist’s job is hard enough — so no one should tolerate those who deliberately spread falsehoods and misinformation. Millions of Americans who are hesitant about vaccines deserve honest answers, but they do not deserve what they are being told by Robert Malone and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Dr. Malone, who earned his medical degree at Northwestern University, is a scientist whose early research focused on one of the building blocks of the mRNA vaccines, which have been hugely important in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. But in recent years, he has become an exponent of untruths about vaccines and has gained a sizable following. On Sunday, speaking to the anti-vaccine rally in Washington, he said: “Regarding the genetic covid vaccines, the science is settled. They are not working.”

For anyone who has doubts, this kind of claim from a doctor can be alluring. “You tell ’em, doc!” was shouted by one man from the crowd, writes Post reporter Timothy Bella. But the doctor is terribly wrong, and he is leading his followers on a journey to illness, suffering and possible death. He has also spread his nonsense on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which averages 11 million listeners per episode.

Vaccines aren’t perfect. The effectiveness wanes, and there are extremely rare adverse reactions. But the science is clear about the nearly 10 billion doses of all coronavirus vaccines administered so far around the world: Those who are vaccinated are far less likely to be seriously ill, hospitalized or die from covid-19. The mRNA vaccines are some of the most effective. According to Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, the weekly covid U.S. death rate for those unvaccinated is 9.74 per 100,000 people; for the fully vaccinated but lacking a booster, it is .71 per 100,000, and for those with a booster on top of the other shots, it is only 0.1 per 100,000. Says Dr. Topol: “I’m not aware of anything else in medicine that reduces death by 99%.”

Along with Dr. Malone’s malarkey over the weekend, the crowd heard from the anti-vaccine campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the onetime environmental lawyer who has become a champion of the anti-vaccine movement. He said U.S. vaccine mandates were worse than Nazi persecution of the Jews. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.” This comparison of lifesaving vaccines to the horrific extermination machine of the Nazis is profoundly odious.

About 20 percent of the eligible U.S. population does not yet have at least one shot — people who might be worried and reluctant. They must hear the truth: Coronavirus vaccines are safe, effective, free and widely available, and save lives. Holdouts’ questions and doubts should be answered with respect, not the cynical and dangerous falsehoods offered by Dr. Malone and Mr. Kennedy.