Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, DrPH
Director and Founding Dean, UCI Program in Public Health
Dangers of Denialism

As of June 2, approximately 60% of the total U.S. population ages 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and roughly 48% are fully vaccinated, suggesting that the groups who are willing and eager to get vaccinated are nearly covered. Our ability to halt transmission of the disease now lies in the hands of the hesitant (21% who prefer to wait and see) and resistant (14% of adults who would refuse it outright).

This isn't the first time we've seen hesitancy and resistance in response to medical breakthroughs throughout history. Vaccine rollouts nearly always come with some level of skepticism or mistrust (we've seen it with polio, measles, the flu, and more). Much of this is exacerbated by the social, physical, economic, and cultural factors – known as the social determinants of health – that influence healthcare access and accurate information or lack thereof.

It’s the 14% – the vaccine resistant – that we struggle to reach. And it’s an even smaller subset of that group that the public health community remains entirely confounded by – vaccine deniers. The past year hasn’t just been spent fighting the pandemic. In equal measure, it has been spent defending science and truth.

Conspiracy theories about microchips in vaccines, COVID-19 as a government-manufactured means of control, and vaccine development as merely a money grab scheme are among the many fallacies floating around today. What should have been a collective response that brings us together for the greater good has instead been convoluted and misconstrued.

As public health leaders and advocates, how do we effectively respond to science denialism, if at all? There has been much debate over this question within the scientific community, which struggles to decide whether to continue fervently defending the field (often to no avail), to better understand opposing views through an empathetic approach, or simply refusing to engage with those who encourage and spread misinformation.

While we are far from achieving consensus around this issue, what I believe we all can agree on is this: Denialism and the rejection of the scientific method represent an assault on truth as we know it. Groups perpetuating these falsehoods threaten our progress in reaching herd immunity and protecting the health of all Americans, whether by sowing confusion, creating distractions, or garnering support for vaccine opponents that could have direct impacts on public health policy.

Science, while not perfect, is the cornerstone of human progress and certainly a cause worth defending, perhaps now more than ever. With lives at stake and the looming threat of novel variants, it is essential that we talk openly and publicly about the science of vaccines. We must continue to raise awareness of how we collect and analyze evidence. In public health, we must be able to evaluate and explain our findings to those outside of the field. Public health professionals can act as a bridge between complex topics and scientific processes to the general public’s perception and understanding – our role is crucial in this information exchange.

Much like the virus itself, science denialism is a threat to our collective well-being, both mind and body. We must stop the infiltration of misinformation into the minds and psyches of Americans, or else, we will continue to see unnecessary loss of life.
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Students Megan Key, Nik Warren, and Kameko Washburn selected for UCI Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) Summer Fellowships
Undergraduate student Stephanie Iraheta selected to receive Legacy Award at 41st Anteater Awards Ceremony
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Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA), United Kingdom
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Published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health (JIMH), Dr. Brittany Morey served as a co-author for a study that found that neighborhood
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In their recent study
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Emily P. Seto, '13

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Emily stands by a launch vehicle and the Mars2020 stack days before the launch from Cape Canaveral.
Lira Islam, '19

Lira Islam graduated from UCI with a Public Health Policy degree in 2019 and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology at UCI. She works at UCI Campus Human Resources as an Engagement and Wellness Coordinator where she strives to build a culture of engagement and health that supports the well-being of UCI’s faculty and staff. She is excited to graduate in June and contribute her knowledge to the public health world! She is inspired by her friends and family who inspire her to follow her passions, be true to herself, and never give up. Her favorite UCI memory is walking through Aldrich Park and looking at all the beautiful cherry blossoms.
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