Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter: For the health of the public

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

Research!America board member and APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin addressed a recent alliance meeting, discussing three epidemics:

  1. COVID-19: Emerging infectious disease;
  2. Infodemic: Misinformation and disinformation; and
  3. Epidemic of Fear: Fear of the unknown, complicated by misstatements and poor risk communication by a range of actors in a rapidly moving communication environment.

Dr. Benjamin emphasized the importance of correcting misinformation – not letting bad information go unchecked. He also suggested we talk about “physical” distancing rather than “social” distancing because being social is important to our health and well-being and shouldn’t be discouraged. Looking forward, Dr. Benjamin discussed societal changes he expects in the future; he called for everyone who isn’t a public health professional to consider public health as her or his second job from now on. Access Dr. Benjamin’s presentation here.

On the “infodemic:” In “Combating Antiscience,” the tireless Dr. Peter Hotez, a past recipient of Research!America’s Advocacy Award for Sustained National Leadership, cites a Research!America-commissioned survey in making his point that “The U.S. public has little knowledge about what scientists actually do.” We all have an opportunity right now to change this! Now is the time for every stakeholder in science to channel your inner Dr. Tony Fauci or Dr. Deborah Birx to help your family and friends connect the dots between efforts to defeat COVID-19 and the ongoing work of scientists to defeat Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, opioid abuse, and more. Our COVID-19 resource webpage can help you combat misinformation. 

Research promoted on Capitol Hill: Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO-1), Jared Huffman (D-CA-2), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar urging him to “immediately lift restrictions on human fetal tissue research, which are preventing scientists from advancing important studies to potentially prevent, treat, and cure” COVID-19. Research!America thanked Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI-2) for introducing a bill to lift the research restrictions and, along with more than 100 medical and scientific organizations, we signed a letter to the administration asking that these restrictions be removed.

Another broad-scale funding package (or not): Congressional leadership is debating whether additional small business relief or a larger COVID-19 related bill is needed.  

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), along with the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities delivered a letter to congressional leadership with recommendations for assuring our nation’s academic researchers and the enterprises in which they work will weather the staggering disruption caused by the pandemic. Research!America is working to reinforce the case for this critical relief. 

COVID-19 related research funding: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published two notices regarding availability of funding to support research to evaluate how health systems and health professionals have responded to challenges posed by COVID-19. Funding for new and active grantees will both be available.

On an alliance member call held today, we heard from Adrienne Hallett, Director of NIH’s Office for Legislative Policy and Analysis. Adrienne emphasized that NIH recognizes and is committed to doing all it can to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on patients and on current and future scientific discovery. Here is a link to an FAQ resource she recommended during the call. 

Mark your calendars for two alliance member calls next week for important updates about the COVID-19 response: On Monday, April 13, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield joins us from 1-1:30 p.m. ET. Register here. On Wednesday, April 15, Dr. Rick Bright, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Scott Whitaker, President and CEO of AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association, will discuss COVID-19 response at 1:30 - 2:30 p.m. ET. Register here.

We are all deeply indebted to the army of public health professionals who are working on our behalf to face down the pandemic in every community across the nation and around the world, and it’s time to say so during National Public Health Week, organized and led by the American Public Health Association (APHA).

We’re proud to partner with the APHA and with the de Beaumont Foundation’s awareness campaign to drive more attention to the critical work of epidemiologists, field researchers, lab scientists, technicians, and everyone involved in public health. Sign on with thanks and/or tell your own public health story at WhyPublicHealthMatters.org.

Please stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.

 

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

 

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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
Abraham Lincoln