Their view: The political vaccine we need now: Healthcare professionals speaking out



Two viral threats are on the rise: the coronavirus spreading from person to person and disinformation replicating across the media. Both viruses need vaccines to prevent further spread: The first vaccine is biological, and the second “vaccine” is social. Every healthcare professional needs to use their credibility to speak out in defense of science.

Medical professionals often shy away from discussing political issues. But we are now faced with an assault on their clinical knowledge and their duty is to protect patients, their health care colleagues, the public, and their relatives, including school age children.

These professionals are trusted voices. Nurses have been rated highest for honesty and ethics among all professions for the last 18 years and engineers and doctors are currently second and third, according to a Gallup poll.

The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospital Association, representing healthcare professionals from both the Democratic and Republican parties, are united in pleading with the public to adhere to scientific guidance by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing hands frequently.

The nation’s epidemiologists long warned that virus-related illness and deaths grow when we relax our vigilance. This growth is happening in Pennsylvania.

One of the many consequences is that we can no longer expect to safely open schools in September.

We have little choice but to address school safety at a local level, because even when there was initial relatively detailed national guidance from the CDC, it is now watered down. The guidance has also become suspect because of changes that appear to have been made for political purposes.

Fortunately, more dependable recommendations based on evidence are available, like that provided by the National Academy of Medicine (tinyurl.com/y2h5xdbx). Health professionals can bring this to the attention of education professionals.

We need the political vaccine of all health professionals speaking out because high visibility, highly trusted scientists like Dr. Fauci are undermined by many public officials, including the president. Their knowledge and their wisdom are denigrated when they should be celebrated.

Every health professional, and every citizen reading this opinion piece, has a duty to address the political fury of dangerous, threatening, mob-like cyberbullying.

Dr. Fauci has, and unfortunately needs, a security detail. If health professionals and other members of the public don’t speak out, will we also need security personnel to protect teachers and others advocating to make schools safe for themselves, their pupils and the children’s relatives?

High visibility health professionals from both parties are speaking out. Drs. Scott Gottlieb and Andy Slavitt, both former FDA and HHS officials, use social media and television appearances to defend science. But they haven’t yet galvanized the vast majority of health workers to speak out publicly.

So it is up to those on the ground here in Pennsylvania – nurses, doctors, other clinicians and health system administrators – to take their knowledge and conversations out of their living rooms and into their interactions with friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Action is particularly important in areas of the commonwealth where greater portions of people suffer from the comorbidities that can lead to the most serious consequences of the virus. The less urban an area is, the greater proportion of patients who are likely to be overweight or obese, suffer from diabetes and hypertension, and who smoke.

We need a broader view than just taking measures to stem the rising tide of the virus itself. The Bipartisan Policy Center, the respected nonprofit organization founded by the former Senate majority leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, protested the administration’s use of the Supreme Court to attempt to overturn Obamacare in the midst of massive job losses.

Health professionals in Pennsylvania can speak on behalf of their patients on issues such as the urgency of keeping access to private insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and letting children up to age 26 stay on their parents’ health insurance.

Organizations such as Ask Nurses and Doctors can provide the tools for responsible political expression of this broader view on health system reform. (http://asknursesdoctors.com/)

The “political vaccine ” is for no one to sit silently when rationality and science deserve a louder voice. This chorus doesn’t need to wear masks to come together to sing in defense of the public’s health.

Jeffrey C. Lerner, Ph.D., is president emeritus and a senior adjunct fellow at Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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