Editorial: Science Snubbed

Monday, October 4th was a day of striking dissonance. Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, a Del Mar resident and Scripps Research Professor, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology. His recognition continues the rich scientific legacy of Del Mar residents going back to Dave Keeling, noted early climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who also guided the drafting of our visionary Community Plan. That same evening, the Del Mar City Council debated important steps to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and the scientific consensus that proof of vaccination and mask wearing should be required was ignored. This non-decision was reached despite scientist and Mayor Terry Gaasterland favorably citing that the same workplace restrictions proposed are enforced for students and faculty at UC San Diego, yet finding that they were “premature” for Del Mar residents and visitors. Rather than assert any kind of regional leadership, the council decided to defer the decision to the San Diego County public health officials (who 10 days later also punted on the issue). By contrast, two days later the Los Angeles City Council adopted the restrictions that were rejected by Del Mar, and now requires proof of vaccination to enter indoor restaurants, shopping malls, movie theatres, hair and nail salons, and more venues.


To add injury to the insult, a number of the “Red Dot” letters (citizen comments on the council agenda item submitted before the council meeting) opposing any serious attempts to halt the COVID-19 pandemic in our community cited pseudoscience or misinformation about the virus and vaccines. Here are a few egregious examples:


    • I would consider the single statement from Rand Paul referring to the results of an Israeli study with 2.5M patients that “you are seven times more likely to catch Covid-19 if you are vaccinated” – FALSE
    • Follow the science. It isn’t spread in restaurants! – FALSE
    • Better that than government overreach when too many people simply cannot tolerate the vaccine. – FALSE
    • We’ve had covid. Tons of people locally have had covid. Our antibodies are stronger and last longer than the vaccine. – FALSE
    • As for the mask mandates, there are several studies that show masks are ineffective or cause other problems such as increased carbon dioxide intake or respiratory issues. – FALSE
    • Every vaccine available today is extremely limited against the Delta variant and that includes the new boosters. – FALSE
    • No one dies from Covid, they are dying from co-morbidities after getting Covid. The vaccination and masks harm humans, they don’t solve illness. – FALSE
    • We (who have had COVID) are now immune as all doctors agree that those who have had the virus are now 27% more protected than others who have been vaccinated. – FALSE

We all wish that the end of this pandemic was in sight, but it is not. The large number of unvaccinated individuals continues to spread the virus, and vaccination reduces the risk of serious disease; it shortens the duration of infection, but it does not prevent transmission. Meanwhile, the virus continues to evolve and more transmissible strains are likely to emerge. 


Vaccine resistance is killing people, and we all need to acknowledge that the public health emergency continues. 


The 3 million visitors to Del Mar each year include at least 750,000 unvaccinated individuals according to current vaccination statistics. But the council (with the exception of Deputy Mayor Worden) decided to wait and see what happens next. They only agreed that current councilmembers should be vaccinated, which was pretty easy since all have already been vaccinated. This is a token measure and another insult to the scientific heritage of Del Mar and a retreat from regional leadership.