I apologize for the clickbait headline. It's true. Vaccines don't save lives. A vaccine rotting in a freezer doesn't help anyone, and millions of vaccine doses have done that. The consequences have been terrible. An analysis shows that 300,000 lives could have been saved if every eligible adult in the US had been given a vaccine. Misinformation is a leading cause of death and suffering in America.

The problem was diagnosed astutely by the researchers behind the analysis.

“The vaccine rollout has been both a remarkable success and a remarkable failure,” says Stefanie Friedhoff, a professor at the Brown School of Public Health, and one of the analysis’s authors. It was a success, she says, in the sense that “the United States was first in getting those vaccines developed and making doses available at high numbers quickly to the public.”

A lot of money and energy was invested in the logistics of the rollout – the supply side of the equation. Much less was invested in encouraging vaccine demand, she says.

“We did not start early on with information campaigns about why vaccines are important – what do they do for us?” she says. “We underestimated dramatically the investment it would take to get people familiarized with vaccines because, by and large, we haven’t had a deadly disease like this, so people have become estranged from the important impact of vaccination.”

She is correct. After it was too late, our public health leaders recognized the problem of misinformation. According to one news article.

Outgoing NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins reflects about what could have been done differently in the nation’s battle against COVID-19. He tells Ali Velshi that vaccine hesitancy was drastically underestimated in the rush to get a viable vaccine approved. 66 million Americans remain unvaccinated, leading to more daily deaths, says Collins. “I wish we had somehow seen that coming and come up with some kind of a myth-buster approach.

Not everyone was so naïve

Who could have predicted this?

Not everyone was so naive. Evidence for this comes from the start of the Pandemic when a doctor asked on the social networking site, "So, are there still anti-vaxxers out there?" A lot of them. They are forming an alliance with the antivaccine movement.

I fear that this alliance between COVID-19 cranks with the antivaccine movement, with its cross-fertilization of rhetoric and tactics, particularly when fueled by funding and support from various political groups pushing to “reopen America”, has the potential to make the pandemic so much worse than it had to be.

I think Dr. Gorski would say he underestimated the problem if he were to be asked about it now. He was hopeful that the anti-vaccine movement would not be affected by the epidemic. The consequences of anti-vaccine beliefs being baked into large swaths of American society are bound to extend beyond COVID.

Everyone underestimated how much damage misinformation would cause. Even those of us who predicted the misinformation were caught off guard. It wasn't just the usual quacks and cranks who claimed that COVID was overblown and that vaccination was either unnecessary or harmful. The message was pushed by influential doctors at Harvard, UCSF, and others, none of whom treated a sick child.

I urge you to read Dr. Gorski's article and compare it to the ones written at that time. The virus was thought to be less deadly than feared and they speculated that it could kill 10,000 Americans. They were worried that school closings might diminish the chances of developing herd immunity in children who are spared serious disease.

Imagine that.

The Trump administration and Florida adopted anti-vaccine policies because of the doctors' misinformation. Millions of people refused vaccinations because they were told they were safe. According to one leader of a public health outreach organization in West Virginia, her pleas for vaccination were overshadowed by national voices denying the seriousness of COVID-19 or saying that herd immunity was imminent.

The national voices who denied the seriousness of COVID-19 and said that herd immunity was imminent will be familiar to readers of SBM. The death rate from infections is almost zero for people younger than 45. Many young people regret not getting vaccine because they don't think it would be a big deal, so I urge you to read some of their stories. According to one news report, for example.

Tamra Demello had been begging her son Tyler Gilreath to get the COVID-19 vaccine for months. And for months, the 20-year-old resisted getting the shot, telling his mother he was young, healthy and didn’t have any pre-existing conditions, and therefore he didn’t need the vaccine’s protection.

Tyler was one of thousands of young people who thought they were invulnerable to the virus.

Many people prefer to listen to doctors who tell them what they want to hear, and some doctors are perfectly content to make wildly optimistic predictions for access and exposure. They know there will be TV interviews and open doors to politicians if they keep saying that only elderly people have any risk. For the past year, they have said this.

Dr. Gorski's warning went largely unheeded, a recurring theme of the Pandemic.

“The key is not to change the mind of current anti-vaxxers, but to educate the next generation”

Some of us have been sounding the alarm about medical quackery for a long time. We knew that even seemingly harmless practices like cupping can be used to spread misinformation. There are no vaccine advocates among the people who are part of the group.

The doctor asked if there were still anti-vaxxers out there.

A virus reeking havoc on the world won’t affect any dedicated anti-vaxxer. Think about it this way- there’s no combination of words you can say to convince me chocolate tastes bad. The key is not to change the mind of current anti-vaxxers, but to educate the next generation.

I stand by it. We can reach many people and hopefully limit the next generation of anti-vaxxers. One of the lessons of the Pandemic is that fostering basic critical thinking skills is not a waste of time. It is a vital undertaking.

Vaccines don't save lives.

Many thousands of Americans could be alive today if more people understood this fact.