O’Scanlon: Coronavirus pandemic proves need for science, vaccines

Declan O’Scanlon has long shown he’s not going to back down from his fight against so-called “anti-vaxxers.” And certainly not now. Not when the world is facing a pandemic that will kill thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — because there is no known vaccine.

O’Scanlon, a state senator (R-Holmdel) since 2018 and an assemblyman from 2008 to 2017, feels the current situation proves his point.

“The overwhelming, irrefutable-at-this-point evidence is that vaccines are valuable and they’re safe,” he told ROI-NJ. “And that lifesaving information needs to be out there. And particularly while we’re being faced with this next threat, that we ultimately hope to have a vaccine for.”

O’Scanlon said the fight is not necessarily against the anti-vaxxers — or even the Democrats. It’s his fellow Republicans. That, he said, is most frustrating.

“I am in the middle of a very heated and provocative debate over vaccines and their value. And a substantial portion of that debate is right in my party,” he said.

“There’s a group of people within my party that seems to assume that the Republican party is anti-science and anti-vaccine. And that is completely wrong. The leaders of our party, the president, his staff, his Department of Health and Human Services people and others (who) people in my party might think are credible, are almost unanimously in agreement.

“So, I’m being provocative and forwarding this debate.”

And, he said, coming with facts.

“I would be willing to bet I’ve spent more time meeting with people on both sides of the vaccine debate, read more vaccine studies supposedly making the argument for both sides, then the rest of the Republicans in the state Legislature combined,” he said. “And I don’t just read them. I tear them apart. I look for the credibility the authors have — have they had things retracted or a history of misrepresenting facts? And I do that for authors of studies on both sides.”

Here’s what he knows. The U.S. hasn’t faced a pandemic like this for a century. It needs to be ready in case these viruses start coming along more frequently. It’s easy to see how they might.

“MERS and SARS, they never took off like this,” he said. “So, we’ve been lucky this past hundred years. God willing, this only happens once every hundred years and all we’re learning now we manage to forget before it becomes valuable.”

He just not betting on that.

“Who knows?” he said. “Several entities are warning that it will be more frequent because we travel more. The world has a higher population, which means more density. We absolutely could face this more frequently.”

The time to pick sides is now. And it has nothing to do with party, O’Scanlon said.

“We have to collectively decide where we stand,” he said. “Are we going to stand with science? Are we going to take advantage of the value and the resources of quote-unquote Big Pharma? Any entity that has the ability to develop vaccines and move quickly. It could be termed Big Pharma. It’s not just the big three or big five. These are other well-funded entities. It’s hard to develop these things in your garage.

“So, those of us who are responsible and in positions of authority, who might be able to influence people and educate people, need to be responsible and need to take the lead and need to challenge what is a minority of very vocal people who would reject the value of science, to combat these threats.”

It’s possible. O’Scanlon says the state’s reaction to the outbreak proves it.

“There is definitely a willingness for everyone to work together,” he said. “We do seem to be pulling in the same direction at this point.”

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