Peter Hotez

Science warrior

2 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

Dr. Peter Hotez is a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. But he’s better known as a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize nominee for helping to develop two COVID-19 vaccines that were administered more than 100 million times in India and Indonesia, and as a fixture on cable news shows during the pandemic, explaining the scope and lethality of the disease and urging Americans to get vaccinated against it. Last year, he wrote a new book, The Deadly Rise of Anti-science: A Scientist's Warning. For his pains, he has been villainized by the antivaccine community online and labeled by antivaxxer presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the OG, or Original Gangster.

“I’m so old and square I had to look up what that meant,” Hotez says.

But in a world faced with emerging viruses, the near-certainty of future pandemics, and a rising tide of scientific illiteracy, old and square is sometimes a good thing. Hotez has led or is currently leading development of vaccines for hookworm, schistosomiasis, Chagas disease, and SARS. He first emerged on TV screens during the Ebola and Zika crises in 2014 and 2016, respectively, but it was in 2019 that his profile really rose, as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News repeatedly sought him out as a smart, calming, and avuncular voice on the dangers of the pandemic. Fox ultimately fell away, but he has remained a familiar presence elsewhere. Now, he says, he fights the dangers not just of the antiscience and anti-vax communities, but, as a Jewish person, antisemites too. Still, he says, he will not climb down from the medical vanguard. 

“If you are truly committed to saving lives,” he says, “you have to combat this antiscience aggression. I can make the greatest vaccines in the world, but if no one takes them, it’s self-defeating.”

Correction, May 2

The original version of this story misstated the location of Baylor College of Medicine. It is in Houston, Texas, not Waco.

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