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The Power of Communication to Influence Health (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 2: McGovern Award Lecture by Dr. Richard Besser)

A tanned, white man standing in front of a blue background with a white moon-shape that says "One Health" on it behind him.

Dr. Richard Besser speaking at MLA13 One Health

After the first plenary and a short break came the second plenary, the McGovern Lecture.  I was surprised to see on twitter (the hashtag for the conference was #mlanet13 if anyone is interested) that many librarians didn’t see the value of having a plenary lecture by a non-librarian talking about non-library things.  I responded to this criticism in one of my official MLA13 blog posts The Value of the Non-Librarian Perspective: Thoughts on Plenary 2.  Please do take a moment to check that out.

And now back to the plenary.  Dr. Richard Besser is the medical correspondent for ABC, but more interestingly to me, he also was the acting director of the CDC during the H1N1 epidemic.  Epidemics ultimately were a theme of the conference, which makes sense since the overarching theme was One Health.  One health meaning the global health of all living creatures and how we are all interconnected.  Below are my notes from Dr. Besser’s lecture.

Introduction

  • Describes himself as an accidental journalist
  • If you change your life, then the terrorists win.
  • The reason Israelis are so well-prepared is because they face it every day.

Starting at the CDC and Advice on Being the New Person

  • Recommends the leadership book Good to Great
  • 1st ask your new boss what they think of their organization and ask them if they think it needs: big change, small change, or stabilization

How to Respond to a Pandemic

  • If you can spread out a pandemic so hospitals aren’t flooded, you’ll save lives.
  • You use different words to get different responses.
  • With a new emerging infection, you only get one shot to get ahead of it.
  • Be transparent with the public.
  • Base actions on fact.
  • Apply rapid learning –> guide will change based on new knowledge
  • If you lose the trust of the public, you’ve failed.
  • Three key aspects of communication:
    • Be first
    • Be right
    • Be credible
  • Homeland Security is in charge during a declared national emergency
  • Dr. Besser was featured on The Daily Show during the H1N1 epidemic
  • When he met with the cabinet, Obama said, “I want our responses based on science.”  An excellent support of evidence-based medicine.
  • Don’t use jargon with a non-science expert.  (For that matter, don’t use your specialty’s jargon with someone who is not also a specialist).  Just because someone is intelligent doesn’t mean they know the jargon.
  • Translate science into clear, spoken English.
  • Flu can spread for 12 days after infection.
  • How do you tell a good study from a bad one?  Which are reportable?

Q and A

  • Once someone is obese, it’s very very hard to lose that weight. Prevention is much easier.
  • So many diseases emerge from eating meat.
  • up-to-date is “an aggregator site” be sure to check primary sources
  • “A lot of people practice based on what they learned in residency.”
  • Check out his weekly twitter chat which he has complete control over at handle @abcdrbchat on Tuesdays at 1pm EST.

Check out Dr. Besser’s biography at ABC news, his twitter, and his book Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions.

Up next will be the third plenary, the Janet Doe lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall.

The Vaccination Paranoia

December 8, 2009 2 comments

For a while now there’s been increasing rumblings of a vaccination controversy.  Apparently this is coming more to the fore-front as Newsweek saw fit to publish an article arguing for the benefits of vaccinating your children.  I know to some of my friends and colleagues in the healthcare community, this anti-vaccination movement seems to be coming nearly out of thin air in the last few years.  They are confused as to why any parent would argue against vaccinating their child in a Western nation.  While I absolutely agree with them, this didn’t exactly come out of nowhere for me.  Until I started working in hospitals, I myself wasn’t vaccinated. *

My parents, mainly my mother, were part of the first wave of the anti-vaccination crowd.  Their reasons for not wanting me to get vaccinated were officially religious.  They believed that your body is the temple of the living god, and therefore you should not purposefully inject anything harmful into yourself.  To them, even though a vaccination is a gentled-up version of the virus, it was still perceived as injecting harm.  In the fundamentalist crowd the leap to “this lighter version of the virus will allow my child to build antibodies so the strong one won’t harm her” just wasn’t made.  I’m not sure if they didn’t believe the science, didn’t understand it, or just didn’t think it was necessary.  Whatever the case, a vaccine was injecting a virus into your body, and that was wrong in the eyes of god so that was that.

Of course there was the other layer thatnon-fundamentalist parents who are anti-vaccination today are also claiming today–the contents of the shot are harmful and at best dumb the kid down, at worst give them Autism or paralyzes them.  Frankly, if this was true, we’d have an epidemic of Autism and paralysis right now.  We obviously don’t.  Most of my public school graduating class was vaccinated, and they were the most intelligent graduating class from my school in ten years, with a record number attending high-ranking colleges.

Even after I had deconverted, thereby losing the religious concern, I still for a long time believed that vaccinations were a big government conspiracy.  We’re seeing this concept now with the H1N1 vaccinations.  There are groups out there saying at best that the pharmaceutical community created the virus so they could profit from the vaccine and at worst that the vaccine will kill or maim all the poor people (or a certain race of people or whatever group the person making the claim is part of).

I know from my own experience that these claims are being made out of fear and ignorance.  People who don’t understand science, were never properly taught science, or who were raised to fear outsiders make claims like this.  Any educated person knows that the scientific community works incredibly hard for the greater good.  What an insult to the scientists who worked to make the H1N1 vaccine to claim that they maliciously created the virus just so they could sell a vaccine!  Claims like this about vaccinations are the same as claiming that the scientific community is evil–a community that works hard every day for the greater good of individuals and society as a whole.  Frankly, yes, I believe the government is messed up in many ways, but one of the things they do right is to support the scientific community, yet these paranoid groups see this support as a conspiracy.  The scientific community is not the government, and just because the government endorses something the scientific community is doing does not make it evil.

What we are seeing building today is the result of a failing educational system and increasing paranoia.  Our society is by and large encouraing paranoia and panic at an increasing rate.  You just have to remember America before 9/11 and after 9/11 to know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m not going to be all conspiracy theorist about this, but our society is increasingly uneducated and afraid.  Instead of seeking to raise calm, rational, scientific individuals we’re turning into a bunch of paranoid, uneducated, panicking people making bad decisions for the future.  Knowledge and logic impart calm and peace.  I know this from personal experience.  When I thought that schizophrenic symptoms were caused by demon possession, I walked around afraid.  When I learned the biological basis of schizophrenia and the treatments available, I was no longer afraid.  The same is true for the vaccination paranoia.  It is a symptom of a lack of general public knowledge about science.  They are wrong, but there is no quick fix for this.  The answer is an educated, rational populace, and that is going to take time and effort.

*  My father claims he snuck me off to get one round of vaccinations when I was a child.  I don’t remember this, however, and we all know there’s more than one round of childhood vaccinations.