Say I start to believe PizzaGate and I start clicking all the theories of PizzaGate. What I’m going to get served up on my social media channel is lots more things about conspiracy theories. And if I don’t have anybody pushing back on that, and I’m going down that wormhole, I’m going to start to believe more and more and more disinformation. That’s just not good for society. Between social media and people’s own anxiety and the polarized nature of our country, all these pieces have combined to make sort of a perfect storm around vaccine hesitancy.
Are there some people who will never get vaccinated, never wear a mask? Yes. We’re already seeing that in places in the country. But I think the more important question is: Will there be a broad set of people that will take this vaccine? And I think the answer to that will be yes.
You and Bill have been subject of conspiracy theories, too. Why do you think they’ve targeted you specifically?
I don’t know. I just think that fear is there, and so people are looking to point to somebody or some thing or some institution. And then once it lands on that person or institution, you get sort of a pile-on effect because of social media, and it’s deeply, deeply concerning for society. Our democracy depends on facts, and we depend on having real facts out there to keep ourselves safe and healthy.
Do you believe that the Trump administration’s politicization of the vaccine development process is contributing to that hesitancy?
Absolutely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set up to give scientific information and guidance to health commissioners in every region of the United States. That agency needs to be left to do its job in terms of real scientific fact. And same thing with the Food and Drug Administration. The F.D.A. is our gold standard. It’s how we know our vaccines are safe and efficacious. So they need to be independent organizations and left as independent so that we can trust them. Unfortunately, the opposite of that has happened during this current administration.
Do you believe the United States will be able to recover its leadership position in public health?
People are looking to the U.S. and saying: “What’s happened? What’s going on?” But I do believe our F.D.A. will hold. I do believe our C.D.C. will hold. I do believe the institutions we have will hold over the long term. I’ve traveled to many different countries and seen where they don’t have good governance or good institutions, or they don’t have a free press. We are lucky to have those things in the United States. And, yes, they have been eroded to some extent, some of them, and, yes, our position in global leadership has people scratching their heads. Can it be built back? Yes. Definitely.