Covid-19 Message: Powerful Divisions Among Public Health Leaders

“This is the strongest division I can think of among mainstream public health officials,” Kaplan said.

“By the way, it reinforces another thing: it’s an ethics-based department, not about science,” he added. “This is a fight. What do you do about Covid at this point? Do you insist that we must double down on masking and vaccination mandates, improve ventilation and insist on testing to open schools? Or just say, “People are tired. I don’t want to do it anymore. We can’t make them.

This division arose as health officials and experts increased the number of online attacks and even death threats From the common people who opposed them.
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At the height of the pandemic, I think the mainstream public health and scientific communities all had the same perception when “2,000 to 3,000 Americans were dying a day. This was a devastating pandemic.” It was the leading cause of death in a single day, and we had to do everything we could to save lives, encourage immunization and maximize NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions). said Hotez.

“There has always been a group of dissenting intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals who have been very aggressive, downplaying the severity of the pandemic and tending to call it a hoax or just the flu,” he said. “Now things are a little more blurry. There are different voices now compared to that kind of duality and dichotomy. I think what you’re hearing right now is the spectrum.”

That spectrum includes those who still downplay the seriousness of Covid-19, and those who argue that strict measures should be maintained today, including some experts. A public health voice middle ground has also emerged over time.

“It gets a little bit dicey when people take a middle ground between the two,” Hotez said. “And they tend to be heavily criticized.”

One recent example is Criticism, intimidation and backlash targeted at Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and professor of public health at George Washington University.

A doctor’s work strain

A former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Wen has emerged as one of the more moderate voices in public health during the pandemic, Some states have lifted mask requirements in schools February and Decided not to send my kids back to school in masks this fall.

“That’s what my family has decided. Our perspective has changed a lot since the pandemic started when much is not known about the impact of Covid-19 on children. Spend time indoors.” I only spend time outdoors and socialize with other people,” Wen told CNN in August.

“The turning point for us was after Omicron became dominant because it became more difficult to avoid Covid-19 despite the precautions we had taken. , vaccinating our children gave us even more reassurance that masking could be replaced with the protection of vaccination.The fact that our children could still be infected with Covid-19 I know, but the risk of getting seriously ill is very low.”

In August, more than 600 public health professionals and their advocates signed the letter It “demanded” Wen be reconsidered and replaced as a speaker at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Boston in November. It criticizes some of Wen’s messages.
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“Through the press and social media platforms, Dr. Wen has promoted unscientific, dangerous, disabled, fatphobic and unethical practices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. I’m here. “For example, in a recent article, Dr. Wen suggested that infections should be accepted as the ‘new normal. “

The American Public Health Association said in a statement that Wen will join the upcoming conference as a panelist for a moderated discussion on backlash against public health.

In effect, Wen is getting backlash for being on a panel about backlash.

“This is something she and many other public health officials across the country have encountered at unprecedented levels in recent years, and she is well qualified to deal with it. Dr. Wen will not be a keynote speaker, but will speak at the conference.” I have not received any compensation for the conference,” the statement said. She added that she expects more than 5,000 people to speak at the conference session and that she has “no plans to withdraw invitations to the programme.”

In an email to CNN, Wen said the disagreement among public health experts on Covid-19 countermeasures was an “important policy dialogue” and that guidance on Covid-19 had changed since the start of the pandemic. said there is. and treatment.

“Additionally, as it became clear that this coronavirus will be with us for many years to come, the majority of Americans have decided that their activities cannot be restricted permanently. Guidance from the CDC has evolved in light of this newness.I am one public health expert who supports this evolution by federal health officials.Some people disagree, but these are important. policy dialogue,” Wen wrote.


“Ultimately, we have to be honest that all mitigation measures come with trade-offs that need to be continually evaluated as the situation evolves,” she added. We should also be concerned about the growing backlash from the government, partly due to what some perceive as extreme COVID-19 mitigation efforts.”

That backlash is unlike the schism occurring in the medical and public health fields. Such threats made directly against some public health professionals are mostly from the general public.

For example, a Texas man incarcerated in federal prison For sending threatening messages to Wen. Another man from Massachusetts said, charged with direct intimidation against temperature.

“Scientists and medical professionals need not fear for our lives. It is truly tragic that the polarization around COVID-19 has intensified intimidation and bullying by public health officials,” said Wen. said in an email. “People who disagree on policy issues should speak up in a respectful and courteous manner, not harassment or threats.”

medicine and public health

Overall, medicine and public health are two different things, says Alex John, author of For the Common Good: The Philosophical Foundations of Research Ethics and director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. London suggested in an email to CNN.

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“Public health is almost equated with medicine because medicine tends to focus on the health of the individual, whereas public health tends to focus on the factors that affect many people. It’s a shame to see. Vaccines are important and it’s amazing that we have such a safe and effective tool. [our] waste. But the polarization around false dichotomy has led to better ventilation, encouraging sick leave rather than asking employees to come to work sick, and when someone is sick and has to go out in public. have resulted in the neglect of practices such as encouraging the use of masks at all times.

“There has been some confusion about when people are debating evidence and when they are debating values. My guess is that the backlash over Dr. It still poses a very high risk for many people,” he added. We specifically see it as seeking an approach to public health that improves the baseline of what is considered socially acceptable, rather than aiming for .”

The Covid-19 message has significant differences between the individual medicalized model of medicine and the public health model, says author of The Viral Underclass and Northwestern University Medill journalism, media and integration. said Stephen Thrasher, a professor at marketing communications.

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He believes Wen is “essentially pushing a healthcare model where people assess their own risks and talk to their doctors about what to do.” [Biden] The administration is in many ways inclined to it.they are planning to “commercialize” — that’s their word — Covid treatment and medication,” Thrasher said.

Congress failed to pass additional Covid-19 relief funds that the White House has said must pay for vaccines, tests and treatments. , said to be one of the results.

“But the way to ensure collective health when it comes to infectious diseases is to make medicine free at the point of serving as many people as possible,” Thrasher said. As soon as you start, those who can afford to pay will get more protection, and those who can’t pay will attract the virus, which is a big dynamic going on between the two camps right now Dr. Wen said that I think it’s a prime example.”

Thrasher added that although he did not sign it, he is not a member of the association and therefore “supports” the letter asking Wen not to speak at the American Public Health Association’s meetings. critical of Wen’s views on Twitter told CNN She blocked him on social media platforms.

“I think whenever people are active members of an organization, they should be able to have a critical say in who is allowed to speak and who is not,” he said. “If I were a member of that organization, I would sign the letter myself.”

Caplan does not agree with all of Wen’s views on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“She’s in camp saying we didn’t fight this well and we’re going to have to live with it now….at this point we’re just like the flu. I plan to deal with Covid and live with the disease…results including death,” he said. “I think it is wrong. Public Health is still working hard to do what it can to fight for people at high risk and reduce deaths, long-term Covid disability, and loss from work.” I think you should.”

However, he also disagrees with the backlash against Wen and the letter protesting her attendance at the meeting.

“I think it’s silly to try to target Wen for a cancellation,” Kaplan said.

“I think the public health response to Covid is a mess. I think it’s because it’s been done. I failed.” “Public health is divided over complaints about poor Covid management.”


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