@DearPandemic and Malia Jones on tracking diseases and tracing public resistance to vaccines

May 20, 2020

Please share this missive with your friends & neighbors.

Hi WN@TL Fans,

I once was asked to pinch-hit with but a few hours’ notice to give a speech to a statewide gathering of public health officials.  I know only about 5 minutes worth of public health and I was asked to fill 15.  Luckily, as a plant pathologist, I shared some common fibers with the MPH folks.

We both work with populations, not so much with individuals.  We both emphasize prevention, rather than cures.  We look to resistance through breeding of plants or through vaccinations of people.  We both emphasize gathering data and getting a picture of the patterns of how infectious diseases spread across towns and counties and countries and continents. We understand virulent inoculum and susceptible hosts, and sometimes we shudder for the specter that is likely to unfold and about to burn across our homelands.

At the time of the speech, the TV series “ER” was a big deal. ER docs, bless their souls & their skills, are heroes on our screens and in our grateful hearts in no small parts because they save lives.  ER docs & their colleagues save those lives one person at a time, a person with a face and a name, a person often with loved ones waiting in anguished desperation in the hospital hallways to hear if their beloved will live or die.

As I pointed out, ruefully, no one would ever make a TV show entitled “PHO:  Public Health Office.”  Nobody working at Fox in the 1990’s or at Hulu in 2020 would find the drama in the mundane work of saving merely millions of lives through clean water, sanitary sewers, pest controls, or vaccination programs.  Certainly the collecting & analyzing of data and the disseminating of warnings would not gin up the old-school Nielsen ratings.

Alas, unlike the situation with ER crews, we do not know, we cannot know, the faces and the names of people who are alive today because of our colleagues in public health.  Nevertheless, here I am, here we are:  multitudes, multitudes.

Among those public health colleagues are the epidemiologists, the sentinels who search for first sparks and who trace back root causes and who seek to make sensible projections of where epidemics might burn—and who offer actions we can take to stall, impede, tamp down and snuff out the deadly fire.

It’s been a rugged, exhausting five months for epidemiologists.  The disease is baffling, the virus is an enigma, and the political landscape is a minefield unlike any in my memory.

In the smoke & fog of it all, I’ve been delighted to watch the rise of a group of epidemiologists who have banded together to produce a Twitter feed under the banner @DearPandemic that crisply lays out the ins & outs of the current situation. It’s science, not omniscience, and they help me sift for the nuggets among the spall.

Among the lead organizers of Dear Pandemic is Malia Jones, PhD, MPH  who works for the Applied Population Laboratory housed in Ag Hall. She has shared her insights and analyses on Covid through recent webinars.   But a couple of years before the coronavirus hit, she gave a talk to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab on “vaccine hesitancy”—the reluctance of people to embrace vaccines.

It’s gripping work to unravel such knots, to grapple with the concerns and to grasp the fears of people who see unacceptable risks or even conspiracies in immunizations.  As we move another week into the relaxation of the stay-at-home orders, it’s an apt time to review a preview to our current situation.

Here’s Malia’s talk entitled “Vaccine Refusal & Public Health.”   It’s from September 27, 2017, but it seems like it was only yesterday.

You can also catch Malia and her Dear Pandemic compatriots on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dearpandemic/

Hope to see you sometime soon once we can resume Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H


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