With persistent COVID cases and an outbreak of monkeypox, there is a lot of information. According to the pharmacy faculty, it may or may not be backed up by science.
Chris Lynch has dealt with COVID vaccine myths for much of the last few years of his career. Lynch, professor of pharmacy practices and director of clinical programs at SIUE, said pharmacists have a special role to play in the health care system.
“In our role as the most easily accessible health care professionals – and one of the most trusted – pharmacists are uniquely positioned to answer questions to the general public about vaccines,” Lynch said.
Lynch said one of the most widespread misconceptions about COVID is that it is no longer a threat.
“While COVID is not resulting in as many hospitalizations as it did last year, the frequency is still relatively high,” Lynch said. “In particular, it’s still a big risk among the elderly and immunocompromised people with underlying diseases. I’m hesitant to say that we’re better. I think that globally, it’s true, but in specific populations it’s still a big issue.”
Many of the School of Pharmacy faculty have jobs off-campus in clinical settings, where they can provide education and administer vaccines to the general public. Lynch said off-campus education helps both the public and the health care community.
“Anything we can do to make more health care providers knowledgeable about a subject, and the general public more knowledgeable about a subject … It starts to break down those barriers to seeking information [and] care,” Lynch said.
Miranda Wilhelm teaches a course in immunizations and has played a direct role in educating the wider health care community on vaccine updates. Wilhelm said she and a colleague from a Chicago pharmacy school collaborated on a series of videos and lectures dispelling myths about vaccines.
“I did one on how the vaccines are made, and how they’re safe and effective,” Wilhelm said.
Like Wilhelm, Jared Sheley said he has also educated both patients and health care professionals on the newest information and updates. Sheley, a professor in the School of Pharmacy, also does rounds in a hospital with a multidisciplinary team.
“We had a big role,” Sheley said. “Not just managing these patients day-to-day … But we also did several formal lectures and presentations to our medical staff, to our physicians, to inform them of latest evidence: ‘Here’s how we think we can apply it and maybe should not apply certain things.’”
Over the last few years, Sheley said he has seen a lot of COVID patients. In his position as a health care provider to sick patients in the hospital, Sheley said he often had to dispel common myths about the virus and treatment options.
“With COVID, everything was brand-new, so initially when we had access to these drugs none of them were FDA-approved for treatment,” Sheley said. “Before we could treat anybody, part of the process was that we had to go through a specialized informed consent process … That in itself can be a deterrent.”
Wilhelm said much of her recent work has revolved around informing people about the monkeypox vaccine, which goes under the trade name Jynneos. Jynneos is not a new vaccine, but supply is severely limited because this is the first time monkeypox has become this widespread. Due to undersupply and a shortage of professionals, the federal government has authorized pharmacy technicians and students to administer these vaccines.
“It’s part of the PREP Act related to monkeypox,” Wilhelm said. “Some of the PREP Act is what gave pharmacists and students and technicians the right to administer flu and COVID vaccines throughout the pandemic.”
Lynch said he is always sure to draw a distinction between misinformation and common myths. Lynch said that with misinformation, there is more agency in the spreading of falsehoods than there is with myths.
“When politicians on both sides of the political spectrum were getting involved in very specific recommendations about drug therapy, that was really troubling because those recommendations may or may not have been based on any valid scientific literature,” Lynch said.
Lynch said he became a pharmacist around the time AIDS appeared on the world stage, and that he sees parallels between media treatment of AIDS back then and monkeypox today.
“When people who suffer from a disease begin to be marginalized because of their gender identity or sexuality … Then a segment of the rest of the public loses empathy for those people,” Lynch said. “That’s a real problem too, and it leads to people who maybe should seek care earlier being reluctant to seek care. It leads to people not wanting to be vaccinated because they feel that the vaccine itself will label them in some way that they’re not comfortable with.”
Lynch said the effects of misinformation are often more far-reaching than the individual.
“Any time you try to marginalize people who are suffering from a disease,” Lynch said, “all it does is reduce the ability of the entire public health system to respond to a problem.”
For more information on monkeypox, visit the CDC’s website.