— Twitterstorm followed his criticism of museum’s confusing booster policy for teens

by Cheryl Clark

Podcaster and comedian ZDoggMD, a.k.a. Zubin Damania, MD, became ensnared in a Twitter tornado Friday over his post that criticized a San Francisco children’s museum policy that he thought required children 12 years of age and older to be boosted as a prerequisite for admission.

After his tweet, Damania incurred a fury of invective from all sides, and a corrective response from the California Academy of Sciences. The Academy said his tweet misstated its policy. Instead of barring unboosted children and others 12 years and up, the Golden Gate Park museum does allow people 12 and older who are fully vaccinated but not up to date with their booster to “bring a recent negative test instead.

“We have to step in to clarify that this statement isn’t correct,” the California Academy of Sciences tweeted back to ZDoggMD. “We don’t require booster shots for kids 5-11, & anyone 12+ who hasn’t received a booster can bring in proof of a negative test. You can get accurate info about our policies on our website: calacademy.org/safety.”

But the damage was already done. ZDogg’s tweet prompted hundreds of contentious responses. Anti-vaxxers said the museum shouldn’t require shots in children at all, or shouldn’t require boosters, and pro-vaxxers said they should, and many accused him of trying to “bully” a revered and historic children’s museum, he said.

Uncharacteristically, ZDogg threw in the towel. He deleted his Twitter account and said goodbye to his 100,000 followers. In an interview with MedPage Today, Damania explained the volatile thread that ensued made him realize being on Twitter wasn’t worth it.

“This museum is having to defend itself against the mob that comes up,” he said. “Anti-vaxxers are piling on, and then the pro-vaxxers are behaving like jackasses.”

Twitter is just “a depository of mental illness,” Damania said. “And at this point, I’m like, you know what? I’ve always known Twitter is a cesspool. I know it’s not the place for me because I’m too emotionally volatile to not respond in an emotionally volatile way when other people are behaving that way.”

He said he now realizes, “I’m not good enough to actually be on Twitter. It’s damaging. It’s not getting the point I want across. I have a huge platform elsewhere where I can get my message out.”

In a 45-minute YouTube video some hours after the Twitterstorm, Damania blasted the social media forum for being “like a parasitic virus” that allows people who are “professionals (to) behave like total ass clowns” and “which rewards people for being narcissistic or aggressive or having a personality disorder.”

Apparently, the entire kerfuffle occurred because of a misreading of the museum’s website.

Damania said that he and his wife had received a $125 Academy admission ticket as a gift to take their 10- and 14-year-olds. With a free day last Friday, they checked on the website to see vaccine restrictions — but the wording about the option to get a negative test in place of a booster was not there, or wasn’t there in a way they could easily see it without clicking elsewhere on the site, he said.

Indeed, a look at the museum’s website through the Wayback Machine shows good reason why someone would misunderstand the museum’s policy. Under the FAQ portion on February 17, the website asks and answers the question: “I’m eligible for a booster shot, but I haven’t gotten it yet. Can I still visit?”

“Sorry, not yet. Please postpone your visit until after you get your booster. We regret any inconvenience and encourage you to get your booster as soon as possible!” For children ages 12 to 17, the website states that “Effective February 1, 2022: Proof of up-to-date vaccination required, including booster shot.

Requiring boosters of children 12 years and older as a prerequisite for admission didn’t sit well with him, so he protested on Twitter, tagging @calacademy so it would respond.

He told MedPage Today that his 14-year-old “is not boosted because I, like the two FDA officials who resigned and like Paul Offit [of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia], who’s a vaccine specialist, don’t feel for healthy children the need to boost, and there’s no good science showing us that that’s something that’s necessary.”

It seemed, he said, “very unscientific, especially for a museum that caters to children.”

Even if Damania had seen the option for testing on the academy’s website, he still would have disagreed over the requirement for test results, he explained.

“You’re going to test children who have not gotten a third dose, but you’re not going to test children who have gotten a third dose,” he said. “Show me the data that says that third dose is somehow going to drop transmission rates enough to justify this discriminatory policy and testing.”

It’s a policy decision affecting children, he said, that is not based on science.

Damania said he suspects that after the flurry of tweets Friday, the academy changed or rearranged the wording of its website, explaining the option for children 12 and older to present a negative test result to get in.

Senior academy communications manager Jeanette Peach said in an email Monday that at the time Damania pressed send on his controversial tweet, the negative test result alternatives for those 12 and older “were stated clearly on the Academy’s website.”

But after all the Twitter feedback, she said, “we have updated the health and safety page of our website to increase the prominence and clarity of messaging about those policies.”

In his YouTube video, Damania said he felt “thrilled” to let go of the anger he feels when he engages on Twitter, and that he’s “off for good. At least until I change my mind, which hopefully I won’t.”

Damania, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a publishing partnership with MedPage Today until Jan. 1, 2022. He is currently on staff at the University of Nevada Las Vegas as adjunct faculty with privileges at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. He does not get paid for patient care, but any care he does provide is “voluntary and in a teaching role.”

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