Never stop learningJun 13, 2019
Spring seems to be finally arriving following the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. We do expect greater variability of weather with climate change and certainly May was exemplary. Denver recorded its coldest May since 1995, according to the National Weather Service. With an average monthly temperature of 51.6 degrees, it was Denver's seventh-coldest May in 147 years. I had predicted that we would not have snow on the day of our Convocation (May 23), but was almost proved wrong, as we had heavy wet snow on May 21.
Weather not-withstanding, these comments close the 2018-2019 academic year. One high point leading up to graduation is the presentations of the MPH Capstone projects at the CSU and CU Anschutz campuses. Numbering more than 130 this spring, the range was impressive, reflecting the breadth of public health and the scope of opportunities offered by the Colorado School of Public Health and its capstone collaborators. The venues for the capstones ranged from the neighborhoods of Denver to Asia, Africa, and South America; some students collected data, some mined data, and others carried out experiments. Each project led to a finding with the potential to advance public health. Talking with the students, I was impressed that they are excited about the next steps in their career paths; in my convenience sample, they will be working for public health agencies, health care organizations and nonprofits, doing research, seeking further education, and hanging out for a while—a reasonable strategy for finding that next step.
Convocation day is one of my favorite days of the year—everyone is happy. We delivered our annual awards to students, alumni, faculty and staff during the morning’s awards brunch and I gave Dr. Lorann Stallones the 2019 Dean’s Special Recognition Award for all that she has done for the school over the last 12 years. At the end of this month, Lorann will step away from her long-time role as director of the MPH program at Colorado State University; her contributions have been critical to our success as a tri-institutional school. Thank you, Lorann.
This year, my friend and colleague, Dr. Mauricio Hernandez-Avila, Director of Economic and Social Benefits for the Mexican Institute of Social Security, delivered the keynote speech at the May 2019 ColoradoSPH Convocation. He discussed the “battle for a better world” and public health’s place in this fight. Mauricio and I are in agreement—science is under attack and we need to look no farther than the current measles outbreak to see evidence of this.
In 2019, more than 50 years following the introduction of the measles vaccine, how can measles be resurgent? The glib answer is easy: the dissemination of incorrect information about purported risks of vaccination has created beliefs about risk that have displaced trust in the abundant scientific evidence on the risks and benefits of vaccination. Misleading information is quickly spread via social media and families are turning to falsehoods in making seemingly individual decisions that have societal implications as herd immunity is lost. But, why is the abundant evidence displaced by belief and why are the recommendations of health care providers, their organizations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set aside?
Here is a critical topic for research that has more general implications. Misinformation circulates on many topics, leading to actions that harm public health. At the moment, vaping is soaring among youth, driven in part by industry strategies to influence youth and by misinformation about risks, ignoring the potential for lifelong nicotine use. These mistaken beliefs are supported by claims on social media that are echoed, sometimes by bot-driven traffic.
Back to vaccines. Those not old enough do not remember the fear of epidemics, particularly polio, may not appreciate the significance of vaccines for public health. With vaccination, we no longer have children crippled by polio, damaged by measles encephalitis, or living with congenital deafness caused by rubella infection during pregnancy. Polio should be eventually eradicated, joining smallpox as a killing disease ended by vaccination. And, there is the potential to prevent a substantial burden of cancer through vaccination against hepatitis A and B (liver cancer), human papillomavirus (cervical cancer), and perhaps Helicobacter pylori (stomach cancer). But research is also needed on how to counter what has been termed “vaccine hesitancy.”
I will close with words of imparted wisdom from Mauricio’s keynote speech to our graduates:
Be prepared to speak truth to powerful enemies.
Be prepared for the unexpected.
Never stop learning.
Have a good summer. My Dean’s Note and blog will be on summer hiatus and will resume in August.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health