Within a month of the study’s release, however, the Florida health department’s inspector general received an anonymous complaint alleging that Ladapo had manipulated data to arrive at its conclusion, as Politico was the first to report. Ladapo denied the allegations, and the inspector general closed its probe after the complainant failed to follow up.

DeSantis’s grand jury petition to investigate COVID vaccine makers cites Ladapo’s study as an important piece of evidence. It accuses pharmaceutical companies of falsely claiming that the vaccines would block transmission of the virus rather than merely mitigate its effects. “It is likely that individuals and companies with an incentive to do so created these perceptions for financial gain,” the grand jury petition states.

“Malignant Contrarianism”

Last year, DeSantis put Ladapo in charge of what he calls a public health integrity committee: seven doctors and scientists tasked with determining whether federal public health guidance is “tailored for Florida’s communities and priorities.” Bhattacharya is part of the committee, as is his Great Barrington cosigner, a Swedish biostatistician named Martin Kulldorff. There’s also an orthopedist, an emergency medicine physician, a former biology professor, a microbiology professor, and a Danish vaccine researcher. 

Bhattacharya rejects the idea that he and his colleagues have extreme or contrarian views. In fact, he says, their recommendations align with a century of managing respiratory virus pandemics: protect the vulnerable, rapidly develop treatments and vaccines, and disrupt society as little as possible. But critics, he says, have caricatured their positions. “You say you’re against vaccine mandates and all of a sudden, you’re a 5G chipper,” he adds, referring to the conspiratorial claim that vaccines contain microchips for mind control.  

And yet, some members of the public health integrity committee have touted unproven cures such as hydroxychloroquine and used selective data to question vaccine safety. Four of the seven have had their work published by the Brownstone Institute, a nonprofit think tank set up in May 2021 to counter what it claims are threats to “freedom and fundamental human rights” exposed by the global COVID-19 response. Its founder, Jeffrey A. Tucker, who initially helped convene the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, is an author and self-described “Victorian liberal” who has advocated for child labor. In a 2016 blog post in the Foundation for Economic Education, he lamented that bored kids were forced to attend public school instead of experiencing an “exciting life” of work “on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing.”     

In an upcoming book titled We Want Them Infected, NYU’s Jonathan Howard chronicles the rise of what he calls “malignant contrarianism” among a certain subset of doctors and scientists. Attempting to answer the question “Why do smart people come to believe crazy things?,” he concludes, “They need to be smarter than everyone. If vaccines were banned, [they] would be the loudest voices saying, ‘They’re suppressing this miracle. No wonder big pharma doesn’t want you to know about it.”

Howard says the doctors surrounding DeSantis have vastly underestimated the toll of COVID, particularly in children, and have focused inordinately on vaccine side effects, elevating them to a “fate worse than death.” 

According to Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, the public health establishment is partly to blame for this backlash. The “absolute refusal to acknowledge any side effects of vaccines” has led more right-leaning scientists and doctors to emphasize them, he says. “The public health absolutism of the moment has removed space for disagreement. It empowers people like DeSantis, who is obviously exploiting the situation” for his own benefit.  

“Don’t Mention the Vaccines”

To the doctors and scientists who believe that COVID-19 vaccines are somehow a bigger threat than the virus itself, Ron DeSantis’s Florida is the tip of the spear in a fight to expose the agenda of public health experts and vaccine makers. “If not Florida to perform an independent audit, then who?” says Dr. Robert Malone, a physician and scientist who has publicly criticized the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. 

MAGA supporters and insiders are increasingly disappointed, meanwhile, with Donald Trump’s failure to disavow the vaccines his administration helped develop. Some have gone so far as to wage a pressure campaign to get him to renounce them.

Torn between the desire to please his base and the compulsion to take credit for a win, Trump has tried to walk a middle line, bragging about the vaccines but criticizing Biden’s imposition of mandates. In a statement last March, he celebrated the publication of a book about Operation Warp Speed, which he said “tells the story of how my Administration, in record time, delivered vaccines and therapeutics to the American people to fight the China Virus. What we achieved was incredible, but it is sad to see what Biden has done with it (no mandates!).”

According to Jeffrey Tucker of the Brownstone Institute, “Trump has been warned on multiple occasions, ‘Don’t mention the vaccines at your rallies. People hate them!’” 

Last fall, two employees at a free speech organization, American Priority AMPFest, set out to make a film that would turn Trump against the vaccines. They recruited several doctors whose anti-vax postings had previously caused their social media accounts to be restricted. “The plan was to produce something and present it to President Trump,” Alex Phillips, the founder of American Priority, told Vanity Fair. “A lot of folks in the MAGA movement are not happy with him being so positive about the vaccines in general.” 

The filming took place, in part, at the home of Bettina Sofia Viviano, a right-wing   filmmaker and political fundraiser from Texas who once hosted a mask-burning bonfire. Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker pulled out of a fundraiser she had planned for him after it emerged that her Twitter profile, which billed her as the “Hollywood resistance,” featured four syringes arranged in the shape of a swastika. (Viviano recently took down her Twitter account.)

Source link