Prior to the pandemic, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ranked the U.S. as the first out of 195 countries on their pandemic preparedness. Reality would soon prove otherwise. Despite the arrival of effective vaccines in record time, a million Americans died of COVID in two years, and many millions more were severely injured by it.
What went wrong?
For the past two years here at Science Based Medicine, I have been documenting one answer to that question: Americans were deluged with misinformation spread by high-credentialed doctors and scientists at our most esteemed universities. I have since organized and curated my thoughts into a book titled “We Want Them Infected“, which is now available from Redhawk Publications (and Amazon). In it, I document how doctors underestimated COVID from the pandemic’s first days and later spread baseless conspiracies that the death toll was inflated to avoid admitting error. I discuss the purposeful program to infect unvaccinated young people with a new virus that would prove fatal for some of them, and I document how the anti-vaccine movement has infiltrated mainstream American medicine. Much of this was led by a man who wrote a pro-child labor article titled “Let the Kids Work” and who had ties to overtly racist organizations.
I don’t intend this book to be comforting.
Below are my introduction, the foreword by Michael Lewis (I was on his podcast), the table of contents, some nice things people I admire said about the book, and a huge “thank you” to Drs. David Gorksi and Steve Novella for giving me a voice here.
The title of this book is astonishing. We want them infected. Those four words come not from some random crackpot, but from Dr. Paul Alexander, an epidemiologist and official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration. On July 4, 2020, before anyone had been vaccinated, he said:
Infants, kids, teens ,young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected….
In the middle of a raging pandemic, with a new, poorly understood virus that was capable of overwhelming hospitals and morgues, Dr. Alexander wanted it to spread rapidly amongst hundreds of millions of unvaccinated, young Americans.
He was not alone. Doctors and scientists from our most prestigious universities convinced millions of Americans that COVID was only dangerous for the elderly and infirm They influenced powerful politicians, who also wanted the virus to spread widely. While overwhelmed frontline doctors begged the public to avoid the virus, other doctors, completely sheltered from the consequences of their words, worked to undermine these efforts.
Though they spoke in euphemisms, unlike Dr. Alexander, they too supported the mass infection of unvaccinated children and young adults. To achieve their goal, they spoke about SARS-CoV-2 using the same glowing terms anti-vaxxers speak about measles or HPV. The arrival of vaccines did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm to spread the virus. In fact, doctors led a successful campaign to undermine pediatric vaccination. The anti-vaccine movement is now mainstream.
In this book, I will toggle back and forth between an imaginary world, where the pandemic ended many times, and the real world where COVID remains the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In the imaginary world, COVID only threatened the old and infirm. In the real world, tens of thousands of children and young adults were seriously harmed or killed by COVID. In the imaginary world, pediatric vaccines were dangerous and useless. In the real world, the vaccines are imperfect, but much safer than the virus for children. In the imaginary world, all it took to protect nursing homes and open schools was to say “protect nursing homes” and “open schools”. In the real world, this was impossible when the virus was allowed to spread freely. In the imaginary world, contrarian doctors were silenced and suppressed. In the real world, they were very loud and very influential.
All this had real world costs, though not everyone paid the price.
Over a million people are now dead in the country that had been previously ranked first out of 195 countries on its pandemic preparedness. It’s not over yet.
The problem with pandemics is that people want to forget them. One year a million Americans are killed by a deadly new virus; the next everyone else is back rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs. The impulse to move on from this particular kind of tragedy is more than a little odd. The United States contains less than five per cent of the world’s population and experienced more than twenty percent of its Covid deaths. If we don’t spend time figuring out why we did such a poor job of protecting ourselves against the last deadly pathogen, how will we protect ourselves any better from the next? Beneath the impulse, I think, is a kind of fatalism–a feeling that there was never much we could have done to save ourselves. That all those people who died were going to die no matter how the rest of us behaved, and so why worry very much about how we behaved?
Now here comes Jonathan Howard to tell us why. A neurologist and psychiatrist in New York City, Dr. Howard served on the front lines in Covid’s first wave. He witnessed a lot of preventable death and suffering. And then he watched, with growing incredulity, as influential scientists attempted to deny or minimize what he had seen with his own two eyes. As members of his own profession violated its deepest principles—and were rewarded with fame and political influence. Dr. Howard wrote a series of compelling essays about his experience—which is how I first learned of his existence. His writing was the first I’d seen that explored how and why a handful of prominent doctors and scientists staked out a position hostile to evidence-based medicine, and got a lot of people killed.
Now Dr. Howard has expanded those essays into this book. It’s an important book, for a couple of reasons. It shows how much damage can be caused, in a society that has trouble figuring out who is and who is not an expert, by a corrupt or phony expert. It also hints at what we might do, to prevent that damage from happening all over again. I urge you to read it.
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Big Short, The Blind Side, and The Premonition
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: “We have protected the vulnerable by vaccinating the older population”
A discussion of pre-pandemic anti-vaccine doctors and how influential, contrarian doctors and scientists made their ideology mainstream.
- Chapter 2: “It was an unimaginable hell to be quite honest”
A recollection of my experience working at Bellevue Hospital during the pandemic.
- Chapter 3: “This would translate into about 10,000 deaths”
Dr. John Ioannidis and how his repeated, public downplaying of the risks of the virus at the pandemic’s start, helped to create enduring myths, with tragic, real-world consequences
- Chapter 4 “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence”
A refutation to the many myths spread by Dr. Ioannidis and other contrarian doctors. Doctors who worked with COVID patients know, our patients died from COVID, not with COVID.
- Chapter 5: “By rebuilding population immunity among the least at-risk, moreover, we help buffer risk for those most vulnerable.”
The Great Barrington Declaration and proposal of herd immunity through mass infection of unvaccinated youth. It never would have worked, and it never was intended to.
- Chapter 6: “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions, etc. have zero to little risk. …so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected. …”
How the idea of mass infection influenced both state and federal actions in regard to the pandemic.
- Chapter 7: “We’ll have herd immunity by April.”
How doctors repeatedly spread the myth that herd immunity was at hand, the pandemic was over, and variants were nothing to worry about.
- Chapter 8: “The fear that’s driving this pandemic has been heartbreaking to see.”
A discussion of how doctors not only mocked and shamed anyone who tried to avoid the virus but also used histrionic language to fear monger about methods to control it.
- Chapter 9: “Any strong advocate for kid COVID vaccination is off their rocker”
A review of pediatric COVID and over 25 anti-vaccine myths spread by doctors. The anti-vaccine movement is now mainstream.
- Conclusion: “Every time we see or hear such mistruths we need to combat them and call them out”
Doctors have an obligation to police misinformation in their profession.
Praise For We Want Them Infected
One of the untold stories of the COVID pandemic in the US is the role of medical and public health professionals in spreading disinformation, pushing for policies that exacerbate the virus’ spread, and drive people away from important interventions, particularly vaccines, which blunt the deadly effects of SARSCOV2. Because of professional courtesy, solidarity or just sheer cowardice, many inside the professions have refused to take on these frauds, egomaniacs, purveyors of sickness and suffering in white coats. Jonathan Howard’s book We Want Them Infected, though, names names. In painstaking detail, he builds an indictment of these men and women who have blood on their hands, abusing the trust of millions to peddle lies and falsehoods. This book is one for the ages, making it hard to sweep the complicity of these individuals with the virus under the carpet, leaving a record for the future, a cautionary tale for all of us.
Gregg Gonsalves, PhD, Associate Professor, Yale School of Public Health, Associate Professor (adjunct), Yale Law School
The legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will haunt our nation (United States) for many years. This is true not only because of the horrific toll of more than one million American deaths, and those who lost loved ones, but also several failed public health policies that contributed to America’s suffering. In “We Want Them Infected” Dr. Howard tells a dark story of how spurious concepts of herd immunity may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States (and perhaps globally). His book provides important information about how we might limit the death and destruction of future virus pandemics.
Dr. Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, DSc (hon), FASTMH, FAAP, Texas Children’s Hospital: Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics | Co-Director, Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development , Baylor College of Medicine: Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine | Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology & Microbiology | Health Policy Scholar, Rice University, Baker Institute Fellow in Disease & Poverty, Texas A&M University, Faculty-Senior Fellow, Hagler Inst for Advanced Study & Scowcroft Institute of Intl Affairs
The Hippocratic Oath enjoins us to “first do no harm”. Yet, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, some very prominent doctors have done immense harm. While others were struggling to understand the virus and save lives, a few were spreading what we describe as disinformation, but might equally call lies. By aligning with populist politicians they undermined public health responses and cost many lives. Everyone who has suffered from Covid-19, losing friends and relatives or experiencing Long COVID, or who cared for them, owes a debt of gratitude to Jonathan Howard. By cataloging in detail the ways in which the words and actions of those who, for whatever reason, distorted the science, he must surely have destroyed any remaining credibility they possess.
Dr. Martin McKee, President, British Medical Association, Professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
A comprehensive and sober fact-checking of a disturbing phenomenon: the rise of the COVID contrarian doctor. We Want Them Infected deconstructs the revisionist history and failed predictions of the physicians repeatedly caught prioritizing wishful thinking over data. Dr. Howard has kept the receipts that show these contrarian doctors’ crystal balls are badly broken.
Jonathan Jarry, MSc, Science Communicator for McGill University’s Office for Science and Society
Jonathan Howard’s important book sheds light on a crucial issue: how previously mainstream doctors became mouthpieces of misinformation, promoting claims as false as those of anti-vaccine activists, and making controlling COVID-19 that much harder. The book is gripping, hard to put down, full of evidence and the personal experience of frontline doctors, and thoroughly explains both the problems with the doctors’ claims and the way they affected the fight against the virus. It is a valuable addition to understanding how misinformation spread during the pandemic, and I would encourage policymakers, doctors, and academics to read and share it.
Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law and the James Edgar Hervey ’50 Chair of Litigation at UC Hastings College of Law.
This book would not exist without Drs. David Gorski and Steven Novella. I am enormously thankful to them for trusting me with a regular spot at Science Based Medicine. I had no idea I had so much to say, and they recognized that before I did. I am also thankful for all they’ve taught me over the years about the importance of critical thinking in medicine. We can all learn something by thinking about why smart people fall for fads like cupping. Dr. Gorski is mentioned frequently in this book, but I could have credited him with some insight on nearly every page. He’s been doing this for decades and taught me everything I needed to know to write it. Many people disappointed me during this pandemic. Drs. Gorski and Novella did not.