HJAR Sep/Oct 2021

HEALTHCARE JOURNAL OF ARKANSAS I  SEP / OCT 2021 33 Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH President and Chief Executive Officer Arkansas Center for Health Improvement especially in Arkansas, have refused vac- cines, rejected defensive measures such as masking and social distancing, used un- proven treatments, and reacted with disdain or even hostility to public health outreach efforts, as Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials experienced when they were booed at some of the governor’s community conversations on COVID-19. I believe we can counter the misinforma- tion, but it is not something that a handful of leaders can do by themselves. We need a full-court press from all leaders: Democrat- ic and Republican leaders in government, community leaders, faith leaders, health organizations, research institutions, media organizations and school leaders. Leaders should speak directly to their communities about COVID-19 and vaccines, answering people’s questions and helping them distinguish facts frommisinformation so they can make informed decisions. They should lead by example by getting vacci- nated, sharing their reasons for getting vac- cinated, and practicing defensive measures including social distancing, frequent hand- washing and mask-wearing in public. Our institutions should devote more re- sources to combating misinformation. They should study how it propagates and develop better strategies for identifying it, educating others on how to identify it and preventing its spread. There are also things we all can do as indi- viduals. We can listen sympathetically to the concerns of friends and family members, en- gage them in conversation, and point them to sources of accurate information. Before sharing an itemon social media, we can take a moment to check whether it is accurate shown factual information. The study found that the experimental group’s willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine decreased by about 6% after just a few minutes of expo- sure to misinformation. 2 The politicization of the pandemic has also contributed to the spread of misin- formation. Our society has become so po- larized that public health efforts are often viewed through a political lens. I’m sorry to say that our public health agencies have sometimes damaged their own reputations in this regard: in a report released in March, the Centers for Disease Control and Pre- vention said an internal review found that during the Trump administration, it issued some recommendations — all of which were later withdrawn or revised — that were not free from outside influence. 3 Mistakes like these contribute to an ero- sion of public trust. Apoll published in May by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that public health has a serious trust problem. The survey of 1,305 people, conducted betweenmid-February and mid- March, found that only 52% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the CDC, and only 37% have a great deal of confidence in the Food and Drug Administration. The problem is even worse at the state level: the poll found that only 41% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in their state health departments. 4 Addressing this prob- lem should be a major focus of public health leaders even beyond the pandemic. The combination of misinformation, political squabbling, and distrust in public health has had severe consequences dur- ing the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, information from a trustworthy source. If it is not, or we are not sure, we can choose not to share it. It can be frustrating to try to engage with people who harbor false beliefs fed bymisin- formation. It can be tempting to give up. But again, I believe that many of these people are reachable. One example: an NPR story from July about “vaccine drama” inArkansas in- cluded an anecdote about a woman who was nervous about getting the vaccine because of false claims that it makes a person mag- netic. 5 Pharmacist Tammy Kellebrew found a magnet and demonstrated to the woman that it would not stick to the arm of a person to whomKellebrew had just given the shot. “I think I’ll get the shot,” the woman said. Kellebrew now keeps a magnet with her. She never knows when it might change an- other mind. n REFERENCES 1 Jessen J. Research explores reasons Northwest Arkansas residents hesitate to get covid vaccine. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. July 6, 2021. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/ jul/06/research-explores-reasons-northwest- arkansas/ 2 Loomba S, deFigueiredo A, Piatek S, et al. Mea- suring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinfor- mation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nat Hum Behav 5, 337–348 (2021). https://www. nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01056-1 3 Centers for Disease Control and Preven- tion. Agency Guidance Review. March 10, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ downloads/communication/Guidance-Review. pdf 4 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Public’s Perspective on the United States Public Health System. May 2021. https://cdn1.sph.harvard . edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/94/2021/05/ RWJF-Harvard-Report_FINAL-051321.pdf 5 Huang P. There’s Vaccine Drama In Arkansas, Where Rates Are Low And Everyone Has An Opinion. NPR. July 31, 2021. https://www.npr.org/ sections/health-shots/2021/07/31/1022877843/ theres-vaccine-drama-in-arkansas-where-rates- are-low-and-everyone-has-an-opinion