Jan 20, 2023·edited Jan 20, 2023Liked by Katelyn Jetelina

Look who showed up in my "In Box" from Politico Pulse! "LOOKING FOR THE WORDS — Public health experts, from CDC officials to leading epidemiologists and doctors, say they need better ways to communicate with the public, citing trust issues and ineffective messaging through the pandemic.

Now, new approaches are emerging, though some experts worry they’re uncommon and not always taken seriously in larger pandemic preparedness discussions.

Still, widespread dissatisfaction over Covid-19 messaging means scattered new initiatives could hold clues to the future of public-facing health communications — particularly a move to more local, accessible, regular interactions with the public.

Starting a conversation

Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, is among the scientists and doctors who seem to be making breakthroughs.

Since creating a much-read newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist , during the pandemic to explain public health issues, Jetelina has been part of health communications conversations with government officials in the U.S. and abroad.

The newsletter started as an email to faculty, students and staff to explain the data trickling in early in the pandemic. It eventually moved online and now has a Spanish-language version. She estimates it’s gotten about 300 million hits so far.

Approaches like Your Local Epidemiologist’s — proactive, explanatory and conversational — have been eyed by CDC officials as it considers how to move beyond pandemic messaging missteps .

But Jetelina said messaging changes will likely need to go beyond governments (though she said far more needs to be done on that front) to health systems more broadly, especially at the local level."

Congratulations, while I still think you/she are/is writing just for me, it's nice to read about your impact.

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According to the CDC's website, only 15.3% of the population has gotten the bivalent booster (link below).

Is this low uptake because of mis-information and dis-information? Or is it because the American people have concluded - for a variety of reasons based on truths they see with their own eyes - that the current generation of vaccines just aren't living up to their promise? This disillusionment cuts across all age groups, geographies, races, political parties, genders, education, you name it. The vast majority of Americans are DONE with the current generation of vaccines.

From a policy standpoint, if the vast majority of Americans are DONE with the current generation of vaccines, what good is it to blame low uptake on the dis/mis-informationists? Wouldn't it be better for our country for policy makers to focus on the future, taking in to account the reality that the American people have spoken and their minds aren't likely to be changed? We need BETTER vaccines and BETTER therapies for when people do get covid.


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Thank you for this article. I would just add that one of many reasons people are susceptible to disinformation is that it feeds on well-placed (IMO) distrust of the pharmaceutical industry as out to profit off our health. I myself am critical of Pharma, but that doesn't mean that I think that everything they develop is dangerous. It does mean that I understand people's scepticism about their playbook. If we didn't have a profit-gouging pharmaceutical industry, it would go a long way to establishing trust that the industry isn't just hyping vaccines to make more money. It doesn't help that they are raising the price of COVID vaccines, which has been in the news lately.

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Hi Dr. Jetelina,

I too am a physician, however I have no formal training in epidemiology. I have learned a great deal about this field over the last two years in my own investigation into the vaccine trials and observational studies from around the world. This does not make me an expert. I am an anesthesiologist with a background in mathematics and physical systems modeling (I had a career as an engineer prior to medical school).

Although I agree that mis/dis/malinformation abounds, I have a different take on our approach and the validity of information that supports the thesis that the Covid vaccines are safe and effective.

In this article you have cited a number of misinformation spreaders, including Children's Health Defense. In full disclosure, I am affiliated with that organization. In fact, I have been serving as the Senior Science Editor for The Defender, our online publication. I do not take this position lightly and have endeavored to ensure that what we publish is reasonable, factual and defensible. Moreover, I often discuss our material with experts who are affiliated with our organization before taking the step to publish anything.

I have found that our separate camps have become echo chambers. That is why I have chosen to subscribe to your substack. My intention is not to discredit you in any way but to encourage an open exchange of ideas. I believe you are earnestly explaining your position in good faith. I just happen to disagree with some of your opinions/interpretations.

As a physician, I take my role in this very seriously. CHD pays me only a fraction of what I could earn as a clinical anesthesiologist. I have children and aging parents to support. In other words, I have nothing to gain by speaking up and spreading what you are labeling "misinformation".

I have offered some commentary and what I believe are very reasonable questions on your last two substack articles, specifically around the UK Health Surveillance Data set and the estimates of "lives saved" by the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

I am hoping that you will address them to perhaps uncover where our disagreements originate and in doing so, find more productive ways for all of us to learn from one another.

Given the fact that we both agree that misinformation is a huge problem, wouldn't the most effective solution be to have an open dialogue about where the misconceptions are on both sides?

I have recently launched my own substack, "An Insult to Intuition", where I have explained how I initially came to a different position with regard to the Covid-19 vaccines. You don't need to be a paid subscriber to comment.

This is part I of a three part analysis:


I welcome anyone here to drop your thoughts on my own critique of the situation. Thank you for considering this.

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"it's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled"

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Can you please explain the VAERS data more fully? Also, when you talk specifically about profiting from disinformation, don't forget the HUGE profits being made by the pharmaceutical companies. If only we could do something about that it would take a bite out of the disinformation folks' complaints.

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Jan 20, 2023Liked by Katelyn Jetelina

I would love an additional column just on this point, expanding and clarifying:

"Kernel of truth. Almost all vaccine rumors have a kernel of truth–something that is true but then distorted, taken out of context, or exaggerated. For example, VAERS does say that more than 18,000 people have died after the vaccine. However, this is taken out of context given the surveillance system and post hoc fallacy.

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I'm a new reader to your blog and grateful to my friends who recommended you. As a lay person I am bewildered by the extremely different positions intelligent and informed people take on Covid and these vaccines. One thing I would love to see is intelligent, open fair discussion of alternative views. Propaganda, misinformation, profiteering, exploitative sensationalistic fear mongering are certainly huge problems in this society. The term 'conspiracy theory' is brandished as a weapon, when in fact, there are intelligent conspiracy theories and there are stupid, baseless ones. I know Robert Kennedy and have respected his work for decades as a defender of our environment. His heroic, successful lawsuit against Monsanto is something everyone (but Monsanto) is, or ought to be, grateful for. I'm making this comment to express my wish that you would engage Dr. Setty, RFK's Science Editor whose writing for The Defender is exemplary, science based, though his perspective is often different from yours. What is not different is that you each have educated yourselves and are devoted to our society's health. All of us will benefit from your civil dialogue.

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I am a big fan of this column, but find one aspect of this column needing clarification. It states, “Disinformation campaigns, like COVID-19 vaccines, turns out to be incredibly lucrative”, then lists 2 examples, the first provides the income gained ($100M), but the Kennedy example just states how his website traffic increased, not how that is lucrative? If the traffic didn’t generate revenue, then this should not be included as an example of a lucrative motivation. Can this be explained further or corrected? Otherwise it seems it may be an example of misinformation (yikes!).

I read this column for its evidence-based perspective and have found it exceptionally helpful in my de ion-making to get all COVID vaccinations and have used it to convince others, but I am concerned about this one Kennedy example, especially b/c I know he does have a huge following.

Katelyn, please address this. Maybe I’m misreading it, but, regardless, it needs clarification.

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Your post is priceless and should be read by everyone in Congress. Disinformation, because, it has deadly consequences, shoukd have extremely strong legal consequences. This will require Congress to act. The Executive simply doesn't have the power. If it were up to me I'd remove disinformation from under First Amendment free speech protection, shut down those main purveyors, lock up the malefactors and throw away the key! Social media must also be brought under control so we don't have to be constantly fighting Brandolini's Law.

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I am concerned about physicians who are considered credible who use their large influence to spread their opinions which are sometimes not supported by evidence. There's rampant disinformation and there's also "fact free" information such as The Washington Post/CNN correspondent about overcounting of Covid deaths which has been carefully addressed by Jeremy Faust. When people who are considered credible spread misinformation, that is quite serious too. There is a notable pediatrician who feels the bivalent booster is not indicated for most people.

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This is great stuff. The question is, how do you convince those who are passing along the nonsense that it's nonsense. They've now bought in, and they see articles like yours as more of the "deep state" or "big pharma" or whoever trying to suppress the "truth." We can attempt to inoculate the not-yet-affected against falling for future nonsense, but that isn't going to fix the ones who are already there. (This is more a rhetorical question; I don't think there's a good answer).

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Jan 21, 2023Liked by Katelyn Jetelina

A really good analysis!!

The only part where the logic is wobbly is around the motive. Stating the motive is profit by highlighting how, after growing to fame, some outlets have made profits, ticks every box of the bad epistemics checklist.

Motives behind these accounts most likely come from all sorts of places (from political and monetary gain to full on belief, and belief in associated dogma) and we need to do a better job at understanding those if we are to counter this phenomenon.

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THANKS. This is a great neutral, competent, complete review of the topic. It really leaves unexplored the problem of why good public health information has no punch or power in the public square. Are we all intellectual weenies in white coats?

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One tact that could be useful is saying that IF there were good evidence about the vaccines having widespread adverse effects, you would want the truth to come out too. And surely at least one country with advanced health surveillance would ring the alarm bell (esp. since most countries have no financial interest in Pfizer/Moderna). But there isn't.

Sometimes covid vaccine defenders come off as blindly pro-vax imo. But what do I know I guess...

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Dear Katelyn, PLEASE do not cross that line and try to support the present administration, CDC, NIH or any other governmental or political entity= red or blue. Your value, and I have sent your reviews to many, is in dealing ONLY with data. As a retired pediatric infectious disease physician who worked in Academia (tenured at 2 Universities) until going to the FDA and working there for almost 20 years, there is only one thing that should convincingly persuade anyone about an intervention and that is data that is collected in randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, we do not always have such and MUST use other data. At that point, all any of us are doing is bringing our own data set to the discussion. Your value is the data that you bring to the discussion, please do not veer into justifications or vilifications or assumptions about why people behave the way they do. Please stick to the data. Thank you for your contributions and I would only suggest reading Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Gene" for an additional perspective on why people behave the way they do sometimes. D. Murphy, MD, FAAP

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