Scripps Director of Research Eric Topol discusses Covid vaccination and misinformation at the Belfer Center | New
Eric J. Topol, Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, discussed Covid-19 vaccination and misinformation in a webinar Wednesday as part of Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center’s Diversity in STEM series.
During the webinar, Topol, a cardiologist, addressed misinformation surrounding the Covid vaccine and stressed the importance of sharing easily accessible information to help people make informed medical decisions. Topol was joined in the conversation by Belfer Fellow and epidemiologist Syra Madad.
For the past year, Topol has been writing a column called “Ground Truths” on the online platform Substack, where he provides facts about Covid-19 in an attempt to combat health misinformation.
“We have some really bad actors there — they got kicked off Twitter and now they’re using Substack,” Topol said. “It also inspired me that maybe they need antidotes to this toxicity. It’s very difficult to counter misinformation.
Topol said the United States is “so far behind our peer countries when it comes to vaccinations and boosters.”
“We are more exposed,” Topol said. “The only thing we have is a lot more infections and infection-induced immunity and hybrid immunity. We’ll see if it holds. »
Topol cited the lack of proper communication about vaccine effectiveness as a major cause of vaccine hesitancy.
“We have a problem that people think vaccines don’t work,” Topol said. “They think they are inherently leaky and flawed. And it’s not understood that the vaccine still does a pretty good job of protecting against hospitalizations and deaths and, to some extent at least, against the long Covid.
Madad, a faculty member of infectious disease policy at Boston University, said she received criticism and even death threats following a pro-vaccination opinion piece.
“I had written an article on CNN explaining why I planned to vaccinate my 9 and 7 year old children, and it was last year when the Covid-19 vaccines – the first series – were made available. of this age group. And the next day someone broke into my car and smashed the window,” Madad said, though she noted she wasn’t sure the events were connected.
When asked at the event for his recommendation on how to increase trust in science, Topol said it was important to “get it out there”.
“That’s how we should communicate – be it plain language, not jargon and baseball stuff inside – and be okay with everyone,” Topol added. “But we don’t usually do that, and it took me decades to realize that’s how we should work.”
Topol said he opposed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision not to release portions of their Covid-19 research findings to the public in order to better create policy, adding that the medical community must understand that “people can face nuances”.
“Rather than trying to come up with a strategy that really matched the natural history of this individual’s infection, they simplified it, and it was just plain blatant,” Topol said. “What happened as a result is that they lose their credibility.”
Referring to the next generation of scientists, Topol said creating an open line of communication with the general public is key to launching a counterattack against disinformation campaigns.
“We are not activists. We do not stand up. We just keep our heads down,” Topol said, “we can’t do this anymore – look what happened as a result.