1: Vaccine Misinformation

Nirav Shah, MD, JD, Director, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and President of ASTHO, discusses vaccine misinformation.
DELPH Program.

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge

Dr. Nirav Shah discusses vaccine misinformation.

Interim COVID-19 Vaccination Verification and Requirements Policy Statement

Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health webpage

HIMSS 21 webpage

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, August 10th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Every weekday morning at 7:00 AM Eastern time, we'll report the latest news and opinion from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. In just five minutes, catch ASTHO’s take on breaking news, hear fresh perspectives on policy decisions in the United States from our experts, and be the first to know about professional development conferences and other events to help you navigate your work

Each day, we'll also interview public health leaders, covering the latest in policies and programs. You can follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google Assistant.

Now, here's today's news.

ASTHO’s board of directors has endorsed the HHS position to not create a federal vaccination verification program database or mandate. The decision comes in a new policy statement on COVID-19 vaccine verification. Although some jurisdictions may decide to create systems, ASTHO believes that's a call for states and territories according to their situations or circumstance.

With the Delta variant driving a surge of COVID-19 cases across the nation, Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana state health officer, explains why the new prevalent strain is so concerning.


Nobody really knows how to model Delta appropriately. So, it's difficult to project how high we're going to get and how long we're going to be in this. It's not a comforting place to be.


There are reports that Delta is driving renewed interest in vaccines, but is the variant enough to get holdouts vaccinated?

Dr. Nirav Shah is ASTHO’s president and director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. We asked him to tell us how vaccine disinformation impacts vaccination rates.

Why do you think vaccine confidence has eroded over the course of the pandemic?


I think that's a critical question, and certainly there will be those who come after us who study the pandemic that will do a deeper dive.

There are a couple of hypotheses that I think are worth exploring.

The first is that maybe vaccine confidence hasn't really changed much at all. Maybe the opposition to any and all vaccines has, at baseline, been where we're seeing it right now. That's a possibility, but maybe a possibility where, because of the stakes right now, that degree of mistrust is just more magnified.

Another possibility that might explain where we are is the differences in the COVID vaccine from other vaccines may explain some of the concern and hesitancy we're seeing. For example, many recent polls suggest that one reason folks are hesitant or maybe even outright opposed to the vaccine is that they believe the vaccine was rushed. So, that's a possibility.

The third, and perhaps concerning, is that there may be a group of folks out there who are organized to try to undermine the confidence in the vaccine—we've, perhaps, all read about the Disinformation Dozen, for example. Understanding what those motivations may mean in terms of eroding competence—that's going to be critical right now.


From a messaging standpoint, then, what can public health leaders do about this? Is there anything they can do?


I think the most effective thing that public health leaders can do is to answer difficult questions straight on.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that every single question merits a full response, because there are so many, and many ebb and fall, almost on a daily basis, and disappear from focus.

But there are, from time to time, certain questions that come into sharp focus—for example, concerns that have been expressed around fertility and the vaccine. Those, I think, deserve a full, robust, direct answer from public health authorities. We do that in different ways: we record short videos, which can be easily flipped around social media; as well as engaging with people one-on-one when they send us their questions.

A lot of folks are sending questions not because they are aiming to cause waves, but rather because they, in fact, have a sincerely held question. Answering those sincere questions can actually, I think, bring people on board.


Finally, do you think we can still beat the virus even if we don't win the info war?


I think it will be a challenge.

My concern out there is that we think about pandemic preparedness, sometimes, from a framework of how many gloves, gowns, respirators, and masks do we have, and our vaccines ready to go.

But what about pandemic preparedness from the perspective of scientific literacy? What if, when the next pandemic comes and we have a vaccine ready to go, the public is even more skeptical of that vaccine than they are for this one? That's every bit as part of a pandemic preparedness as are the physical materials that we often think of.

What should we start doing now, today, to prepare the public from a scientific literacy standpoint, for the possibility for the next vaccine and the next set of treatment out there? That is, I think, key and an instrumental part of, as you say, winning the info war that we're in right now.


Finally, today, experienced public health pros who self-identify from an underrepresented group—including people of color, people with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals—are invited to apply for a new leadership program.

The Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program is taking applications. Its aim? To give people more visibility and exposure in public health systems and access to key networks and leadership opportunities.

If you want to know more about this program or anything in our report today, visit the links in the show notes.

Tomorrow, join us again for more ASTHO news and information. Plus, a conversation about the 2021 HIMSS Global Conference happening this week.

I'm Robert Johnson. You’re listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Nirav Shah MD JD

Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; President of ASTHO