How to Conquer COVID-19 Amid a Confederacy of Dunces

Robert Burioni is a virologist at the San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy, and a serious scientist. But in 2016, something happened that changed his course. He was on television with two anti-vaxxers—a famous actress and a former DJ—who were taking on vaccines, reported Science magazine.1 At the last moment, he was given a chance to respond on camera. He said, “The earth is round, gasoline is flammable, and vaccines are safe and effective. All the rest are dangerous lies.” An Italian radio journalist called Burioni’s response “the 13 most beautiful words heard on TV.” An Italian publisher asked Burioni to write a book on vaccines and he complied in four months with Vaccines Are Not an Opinion: Vaccinations Explained to Those Who Really Don’t Want to Understand. Burioni’s experiences with anti-vaxxers have prepared him well for teaching us how to deal with these issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DR. TALK BACK: Robert Burioni got fed up with medical misinformation being spread on social media. “I wondered, why are they so vocal and we are all quiet? So I started to post on Facebook some very simple messages.”Wikimedia Commons

Eric Topol: What do you make of the anti-science attitudes we’re facing now?

I believe the problems we are facing with anti-science are gaining a foothold everywhere, and this is very dangerous. This pandemic has taught us clearly that science is the only thing that can save us. So it’s important to trust the science, the pharmaceuticals, and the vaccines.

I always say that drugs are like money; you exchange your goods for pieces of paper, and you do this because you trust that these pieces of paper have a value. With these pieces of paper, you can buy what you want. But it’s only a matter of trust. It’s the same with a vaccine. We can’t really know what’s inside a vial of vaccine. We have to trust doctors; we have to trust authorities; and we have to trust also the pharmaceutical companies, which are not always careful about communication.

When I define someone as an idiot, it’s not an insult. It’s a diagnosis I offer for free.

What’s really worrying, at least here in Italy, is

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