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We Want Them Infected: New Book Takes Aim At Pandemic Misinformation Doctors
Walker Bragman interviewed Dr. Howard about his new book from Redhawk Publications
Since the Biden administration declared an official end of the COVID-19 pandemic, opponents of public health interventions have been spiking the proverbial football, claiming vindication for their position that the virus, which has killed more than 1.1 million Americans to date, was never that serious to begin with. But one doctor is refusing to allow them to rewrite history.
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Dr. Jonathan Howard is out with a new book from Redhawk Publications that takes aim at doctors who spread harmful misinformation throughout the pandemic, telling the truth about their records in the worst public health crisis the U.S. has seen in 100 years—mainly just by quoting them.
We Want Them Infected, which chronicles how the doctors embraced the idea that infection ought to serve as a path to herd immunity and eventually anti-vaccine narratives, borrows its title from a quote by former Trump administration science advisor Dr. Paul Alexander. Alexander made the same statement in private emails to his colleagues, expressing his support for mass infecting the nation’s youth with SARS-CoV-2.
“Those four words sum up the entire book,” Howard says.
A neurology and psychiatry specialist at New York University’s Langone Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center, Howard was a frontline doctor when COVID first hit New York. But if you ask him about this work, he will downplay the significance of his pandemic work.
“I’m not really sure that I helped patients other than just by being nice and making sure that they weren’t alone as much as I could,” he says. “But I saw a lot. I saw more people die in April 2020 than I had in my entire career previously, and that included some young, healthy people—not many, but some…The whole hospital was just nothing but COVID.”
Still, these personal experiences on the frontlines set him apart from many of his subjects, who for the most part, are not practicing medicine. For example, one individual highlighted in We Want Them Infected as a COVID misinformation spreader is Stanford University professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a health economist affiliated with the billionaire-backed, right-wing Hoover Institution and one of the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for embracing infection as the path to herd immunity. The declaration claimed that broad public health measures would cause more harm than good.
Howard’s experiences in the early days of the pandemic helped lay the groundwork for his book. “During the first wave, I still had a ton of respect for people like [Dr.] John Ioannidis,” he explains. “When he was saying the virus was already widespread and most people already had it, I had no reason to doubt him. He’s a brilliant, famous scientist. It’s only when things settled down a bit and I really delved into what he said that I realized he was saying things that no one who worked in a hospital would say.”
Ioannidis is the medical expert Howard says got COVID most wrong by his estimation, and is one of the inspirations for the book. Howard notes that Ioannidis was “one of America's most respected famed statisticians” but emerged early on in the pandemic as a minimizer and opponent of viral mitigation measures. Howard highlights a March 17, 2020 article for STAT in which he significantly underestimated the seriousness of the virus.
“If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the U.S. population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths,” Ioannidis asserted.
He continued on to add that “Some worry that the 68 deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. as of March 16 will increase exponentially to 680, 6,800, 68,000, 680,000 … along with similar catastrophic patterns around the globe” and mused, “Is that a realistic scenario, or bad science fiction?”
With his new book, Howard is naming names despite a tendency among those in his profession to remain above the fray of politics. But Howard is critical of what he describes as a reluctance in medicine to confront misinformation spreaders, noting “a lot of people just didn't appreciate how big a problem medical misinformation was even in the middle of a pandemic.” He says many are afraid of silencing “heterodox voices.”
To his point, many of the most prolific misinformation spreaders have framed criticism of their work as efforts to silence dissent. Bhattacharya, for example, who personally advised the Trump administration and a number of states on COVID policy, is currently suing the Biden administration for allegedly coercing social media companies to “censor” him.
“I think there's sort of an indifference in the medical community to medical misinformation that we don't think of it as a high priority,” Howard says, explaining why he believes We Want Them Infected was necessary. “I mean, 90%, 99% of doctors are focused on their little specialty. The main disease that I treat is MS and 90% of my colleagues are focused on MS and only MS.”
Howard also believes fear of reprisal and harassment has cowed many medical experts. Indeed, the climate is fraught. Business-aligned right-wing dark money groups and Republican politicians have been waging an information war on public health measures and have successfully politicized everything from masks to the vaccines, to quarantine measures. Several of the individuals named in We Want Them Infected have lent their voices to those efforts, including Bhattacharya. The result is that speaking out today against misinformation carries risks.
“I think that there can be a lot of pushback from this,” Howard says. “You know, I haven't faced a ton of hate yet, but people who are more famous, such as Peter Hotez, have gotten horrible messages and emails, which I talk about, and they've been doxxed and threatened and family members have been threatened. So who wants that in their life?”
Indeed, in June, renowned vaccine scientist Hotez, who developed a patent-free vaccine for use in poor nations, was harassed outside his home following a Twitter spat with podcaster Joe Rogan. The scientist had called out Rogan for platforming the anti-vaccine conspiracy theories of Robert Kennedy Jr. Rogan, in turn, challenged the scientist to debate the 2024 Democratic presidential hopeful on his show. Right-wing billionaire and conspiracy theorist Elon Musk jumped in to attack Hotez, resulting in a days-long online pile-on of the scientist.
Although Howard’s social media presence is smaller than that of Hotez, the doctor has faced his share of attacks from some of the doctors named in We Want Them Infected and their allies, who accuse him of publishing smears. Howard appears to relish this kind of pushback, confronting them with their own past statements, which are included in his book. He often responds to his critics with screenshots of pages full of direct quotes and points out that while he can quote them, they are unable to do the same.
Bhattacharya, for example, posted a 473-word screed about Howard and his book, accusing the doctor of illustrating “perfectly a certain covidian mindset that is too perfect to pass up.”
Howard’s response? Direct quotes from the Stanford professor.
Asked why he chose to speak out, Howard explains that We Want Them Infected was a story he felt uniquely equipped to tell, noting that he has long had “an interest” in the anti-vaccine movement since one of the doctors he trained with, Dr. Kelly Brogan, “morphed” into one of the nation’s leading anti-vaccine voices years ago.
“During the pandemic, I gradually noticed doctors who had stellar credentials and reputations, began to echo the talking points she had used to minimize viruses like measles and HPV and to fear monger about vaccines,” he explains. “Unlike Dr. Brogan, these doctors mixed good advice—telling older, vulnerable people to avoid the virus- with bad advice, claiming it was harmless for healthy people under age 65."And unlike Dr. Brogan, who saw her media footprint shrink, they spread their message widely in prominent newspapers, TV, podcasts and social media.”
“They also directly influenced politicians at the highest level,” Howard adds, referencing Bhattacharya and his Great Barrington Declaration colleagues.