Abundant Idiocy: Peter Diamandis, MD and Founder of COVID-19 Vaccine Company, Held Super Spreader Event

Peter Diamandis
  • At least 32 people infected from illegal gathering that violated state and local restrictions
  • Event held while Southern California ICUs were at full capacity
  • Diamandis says he’s learned masks and social distancing really are important

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Saturday, I received an email from XPRIZE Chairman Dr. Peter Diamandis, holder of a medical degree from Harvard, about a super spreader event he held in Los Angeles last month that resulted in at least 32 people becoming infected with the deadly COVID-19. The email, sent to members of the Abundance 360 mailing list, was based on a blog post he had published the previous day.

I was impressed with how candid Diamandis was in admitting how his Abundance 360 Summit with nearly 100 participants had turned into a complete cluster expletive. Well, I was impressed until I found this MIT Technology Review story online only a short time later:

He started a covid-19 vaccine company. Then he hosted a superspreader event

Ah, so Diamandis published his version of events a day earlier to get out ahead of an expose that he knew MIT Technology Review was working on that would reveal the whole sordid story. (There seems to be a lot of that going around lately.) In fact, the blog post appeared just two days before he was to be interviewed for the story.

Unsurprisingly, Diamandis’ account left a number of important things out. The MIT Technology Review story reported that:

  • the conference was illegal because it violated state, Los Angeles County and Culver City restrictions on large gatherings;
  • the cluster of positive COVID-19 tests was not reported to health officials as required by law;
  • Abundance 360 staffers were directed to keep the news of the infections quiet; and
  • rules on health data privacy might have been violated when results of COVID-19 tests were broadly disseminated internally.

Diamandis wrote that he took every precaution, including hundreds of tests administered to participants and the involvement of five doctors. But, in the end, it wasn’t enough to prevent as many as 24 people at the conference from getting infected.

One reason the infection spread was that mask wearing was not enforced. Participants who traveled to the conference did not self quarantine as recommended by health officials before attending the event. Reporter Eileen Guo wrote:

It has been known since early in the pandemic that the virus can incubate for several days before becoming detectable. Self-isolation would have been especially important for anyone arriving from further afield—like the participants traveling from overseas. The CDC recommends that travelers take a covid-19 test three to five days after traveling and then quarantine for a further seven days even if the test is negative.

Diamandis apparently believed that testing could be an infallible way to circumvent these evidence-based precautions. Under a section in the blog post titled “Lessons Learned,” he wrote of being “flabbergasted” to discover, a year into the pandemic, how unreliable some tests could be, when he used them on himself after developing symptoms and they still came back negative.

Guo tallied 32 cases of COVID-19 among attendees and family members who were infected when participants returned home. Diamandis told her that number “seems probably low.”

Diamandis, who co-founded the Covaxx company to research COVID-19 vaccines, has tried to put a positive spin on the debacle. He told Guo:

“I am trying my very best to turn the situation to one where I can speak loudly and clearly, and share what I learned in a positive fashion, not get burned in the fire but use it to drive a spotlight on,” he told me. “Listen, I screwed up here.”

The thing Diamandis fears will get “burned in the fire” is his reputation as a medical expert, entrepreneur and technology futurist. Who would have confidence in a man with an MD who demonstrated appalling judgment n the midst of a global pandemic?

So, what lessons did Diamandis learn? (emphasis original)

I thought five physicians and 452 tests and my entire safety team could maintain safety. I was wrong.

What’s more, new and virulent strains are emerging, and there are only three options… masks, vaccines and physical distance. I hope others can learn from my mistakes.

So, in other words, what health officials have been telling us to do for the past year. Wear masks. Stay six feet apart. Don’t hold crowded events indoors. Follow the law. Actions the rest of us have been taking to protect ourselves and others this entire time. Legal mandates Diamandis decided to ignore in order in order to hold a lucrative conference.

Why did it take dozens of COVID-19 cases for Diamandis — holder of a MD from Harvard Medical School, founder of COVID-19 vaccine company, graduate of MIT, self-described technology futurist — to figure out what everyone else knew a year ago? It’s mind boggling.

Guo recounted how Diamandis’ attitude about the COVID-19 pandemic has been both dismissive and opportunistic.

In mid-March, when six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, Diamandis tweeted, “We are witnessing the viral spread of fear that is definitively damaging both national economies and global markets” and, later, “The level of panic is doing as much damage.”

But ever the entrepreneur, Diamandis saw business opportunities in the pandemic. On March 26, the XPrize Foundation, which he chairs and which runs challenges using prize money to encourage innovative solutions to big problems, launched the XPrize Pandemic Alliance, with $7.5 million in prize money to fight covid-19.

He teamed up with Mei Mei Fu and Lou Reese, spouses and co-executives of biotech company United Biomedical. The three cofounded Covaxx, a vaccine development company that functions as a United Biomedical subsidiary (and is not to be confused with the global Covax effort to provide lower-income countries with vaccine doses).

Diamandis early take on COVID-19 was dangerously wrong. The risk was very real, the fear justified. The United States paid a heavy price because the Trump Administration dismissed the seriousness of the virus. By the time Diamandis held his conference last month, more than 400,000 Americans had died from it.

While he recovers from COVID-19 and tries to salvage his credibility, Diamandis announced he will donate $100,000 to the Frontline Families Fund, which provides financial support and educational scholarships to the families of healthcare workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19. 

“It is the bravery, courage and steadfast dedication of our frontline works and their family who I most want to celebrate with this gift,” Diamandis wrote.

It’s a nice gesture. The funding will no doubt help those families deal with their losses. But, the donation also rings a bit hallow.

The time to think about these courageous and steadfast medical professionals both living and dead was before holding an in-person conference in violation of the law and basic common sense. The restrictions are in place to slow the spread of the virus. The less exposure frontline workers have to it, the better their chances of surviving the pandemic.

Let’s hope Diamandis’ super spreader event doesn’t add to the list of healthcare workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19.