San Diego County calls medical misinformation a health crisis after 3-hour debate
After a 3 p.m. meeting, at times spiteful, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a measure declaring medical misinformation a public health crisis.
The board voted 3-2 after more than 250 people registered and most voted against the motion, saying it would lead to restrictions on free speech and other violations of personal freedoms .
The oversight board has reviewed the new designation in a bid to shed light on accurate medical information and deter people from considering inaccurate or misleading information, especially as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to grow. increase and some people continue to push back pandemic restrictions and vaccination efforts, officials said.
The action makes San Diego County the first in the country to designate medical misinformation as a public health crisis, Oversight Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said.
Supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson, both Republicans, voted no to the measure, while Fletcher and supervisors Nora Vargas and Tera Lawson-Remer, all Democrats, voted in favor.
“We are in the unfortunate position of taking action against a problem that we wish didn’t exist,” said Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego board of directors, who said the measure would not hinder freedom. expression or impose sanctions or punishments on anyone who spreads misinformation, even if this misinformation “has led people to refuse vaccines and to use unproven treatments”.
The measure does not include penalties for information that officials consider disinformation, he said.
“Nothing to that extent would take away anyone’s right to say what they want to say,” Fletcher said.
Instead, the measure would create platforms for local medical authorities to counter disinformation and order the county to follow the recommendations of US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy in his “Confronting Health Misinformation” advisory. They include identifying and labeling health disinformation, examining gaps in health information, documenting the sources and impact of disinformation, developing digital resources and training. for healthcare professionals, and working with the medical community to develop websites.
“The resurgence of the pandemic has resulted in more infections and hospitalizations than the region has seen since the start of the year and the capacity of intensive care is being tested again,” the county proposal said. “Urgent action is needed to curb the spread of the Delta variant by combating misinformation, thereby supporting our healthcare system and, in turn, saving lives.”
Anderson said the statement was well-meaning, but misguided.
“I understand that none of us want to see our neighbors die, or our family and friends, but I don’t know how to stop the misinformation, or the world I want,” he said.
Desmond, who tweeted thanks to naysayers at the meeting, said changing medical advice on COVID-19 makes it difficult to discern what is good advice versus misinformation.
“Disinformation, I agree, is dangerous,” he said. “However, it’s hard for me to believe that we or anyone we know knows everything about medicine. Today’s facts can be tomorrow’s misinformation.
Nonetheless, the move to label disinformation drew hundreds of people to the meeting, including dozens who rallied at the behest of people who protested against vaccination and mask requirements in recent weeks. Speakers each made brief statements in person and over the phone, until public comments officially ended just before midnight.
Throughout the meeting, some protesters shouted insults at supervisors, booed statements they opposed and applauded speakers who in turn berated board members.
After several hours, protesters outside the meeting sang aloud a quirky rendition of the star-spangled banner, drowning other speakers who were also critical of county officials.
Protesters said they saw the measure as a form of censorship that stifled their freedom of expression.
“From what you’ve posted out there, Nathan, it’s all about control,” speaker Ryan Smith said. “You are attacking freedom of expression.
Some have asked how the county would determine what constitutes disinformation and how it would distinguish truth from fact amid the rapidly evolving understanding of the pandemic.
A few shared their own medical histories. Appearing with her 16-year-old daughter Gracie, Cindy Paris said she and her daughter could not be safely vaccinated.
“She was born with a congenital heart defect,” she said. “It can kill my daughter. It could kill me. You want to force my daughter and me to get vaccinated.
Others called county officials tyrants, fascists or traitors and made apparent threats.
“When you violate the Nuremberg Code, it is the death penalty”, warned a speaker.
“We are raising an army,” said another.
Contrary to the results of many clinical trials and follow-up data on millions of people vaccinated, protesters said they believe the vaccines are more dangerous than the virus. Many have also claimed that the masks have more health risks than benefits.
False vaccine claims have also circulated widely on social media, and detractors continue to post refuted vaccine safety reviews.
Misinformation about COVID-19 injections includes “unfounded notions that vaccines don’t work, that they contain microchips, that people should trust their ‘natural immunity’ instead of being vaccinated, that vaccines cause miscarriages, “the letter from the board of directors reads.
The claims have fueled hesitation over vaccines as health officials attempt to close the gaps in immunization rates, officials said.
Although 75% of people aged 12 and over in San Diego have been injected with COVID-19, it has been difficult to persuade the remaining 25%, according to officials.
Unfounded vaccine fears have left hundreds of thousands of San Diegan vulnerable to the more infectious Delta variant, “leading to a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, again filling hospital capacity and resulting in death and hospitalization thousands of people, ”the letter from the board of directors reads. .
These doubts run deeper into black and Hispanic communities, where historic mistrust of health systems has left many people reluctant to get vaccinated, officials said. Tackling misinformation could help allay those fears and increase vaccination rates, officials said.
Many speakers on Tuesday were against the proposal, but not all.
Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego, has spoken out in favor of better educating the public, saying misinformation compromises the ability to care for desperately ill patients.
“Our healthcare workers are really tired,” she said. “They are really stressed. The environment is getting really more hostile.
Public commentary continued late into the night.