On Tuesday, May 17, California State Senator and pediatrician Dr. Richard Pan, and Dr. Brittany Seymour, assistant professor in the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, gave an engaging talk at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine about how the social nature of today’s Internet has led to new public health and policy challenges.
Misinformation online about vaccines is recognized as one of the contributing factors to one of the largest measles outbreaks in recent history, with many cases linked to unvaccinated visitors at California’s Disneyland. In their presentation “Disneyland, measles, and parents’ choice not to vaccinate,” Drs. Pan and Seymour illustrated how distorted views about science and health can spread rapidly though social media networks.
Dr. Seymour compared the public’s perception of vaccinations to that of water fluoridation. Both are considered to be great achievements in public health, however have faced opposition based on misinformation.
Dr. Pan talked about his efforts to pass California Senate Bill 277–legislation to eliminate religious and personal belief exemptions to legally required vaccines for California school students.
The spectrum of responses to the legislation in CA, ranged from Dr. Pan being recognized as a TIME Hero in Vaccine History, to death threats from local citizens.
“The measles outbreak woke people up and got parents activated,” he said.
Dr. Pan mobilized the health community, schools, parent’s groups and other advocates, and the bill passed into California law in June 2015.
This event was co-sponsored by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the Pershing Square Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behavior, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.