doctor holding clipboard.

Preventing Misuse of COVID-19 Vaccine Medical Exemptions

By Ross D. Silverman and Gabriel T. Bosslet

As COVID-19 vaccination mandates become increasingly common, we can expect exemption requests (and misuse) to become increasingly widespread, too.

Most entities requiring vaccination mandates or proof of vaccination upon entry may offer limited grounds upon which an individual may request an exemption, usually based upon religious beliefs or medical reasons. Recent history with childhood immunization programs shows less rigorously-structured and -enforced vaccination exemption policies are vulnerable to increased usage, relative to narrower or more stringently-monitored programs. That history also shows there is a possibility some health care licensees may be willing to support individuals seeking to circumvent COVID-19-related requirements through offering questionable medical exemptions.

Entities imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates, and state health care licensure boards, can take several simple but significant steps to counter misuse of medical exemptions and better protect communities from COVID-19. These safeguards also can decrease the temptation for licensed health professionals to recklessly undermine critical, lawful, evidence-driven public health efforts.

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Beverly Hills, CA: April 7, 2021: Anti-mask protesters holding signs related to COVID-19. Beverly Hills and the state of California have a mask mandate requirement.

What Makes Social Movements ‘Healthy’?

By Wendy E. Parmet

Social movements can play an important role in promoting population health and reducing health disparities. Yet, their impact need not be salutatory, as is evident by the worrying success that the anti-vaccination movement has had in stoking fears about COVID-19 vaccines.

So, what makes a health-related social movement “healthy?” We need far more research about the complex dynamics and interactions between social movements and health, but the experience of a few health-related social movements offers some clues.

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Person filling syringe from vial.

Religious Exemptions to Vaccines and the Anti-Vax Movement

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Two major problems with granting religious exemptions to vaccine mandates are that they are very hard to police, and that they are routinely gamed.

Religious freedom is a core value in the United States. This makes policing religious exemptions to vaccination hard – and rightly so. The government policing people’s religion raises a number of thorny issues.

The problem is that the same people who eagerly promote anti-vaccine misinformation are just as eager to misuse religion to avoid vaccinating, and have no hesitation or compunction about coaching others to do the same. And without policing, it is easy for those misled by anti-vaccine misinformation to use the religious exemption.

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Cartoon of contact tracing for COVID-19.

COVID-19, Misinformation, and the Law in Nigeria

By Cheluchi Onyemelukwe

The spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria has been paralleled by the spread of misinformation and disinformation about the novel coronavirus. In Nigeria, information casting doubt on the existence of the coronavirus is spread especially through social media channels, but also through other informal channels.

Some religious leaders with considerable influence have doubted the existence of the virus, and shared conspiracy theories on its origins and the interventions instituted to prevent further spread of the virus. Others have taken to social media to express concerns about the Nigerian government and a perceived lack of transparency. For example, the government has received criticism for continuing its school feeding program during the pandemic, at a time when schools are closed, children are at home, and the country’s financial resources are scarce.

Unproven cures and interventions are also regularly propagated, especially via social media channels such as WhatsApp. For instance, hydroxychloroquine, a drug used for malaria previously, has been touted as a cure, despite evidence to the contrary, prompting some to stockpile it and instigating much discussion on social media.

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COVID infodemic concept illustration.

Why Government Information Isn’t Curing the ‘Infodemic’

By Nancy Fairbank

Coronavirus misinformation is beating truth to the punch – hitting the public more quickly and directly. This “infodemic” anchors readers to its core messages and makes dislodging its falsehoods all the more difficult.

The consequences of misinformation are also heightened in a pandemic context, when accurate information is critical to ensuring cooperation with public health measures and acting on falsehoods can rapidly endanger countless lives. Governments trying to compete are faced with two (non-exclusive) options: (1) attempting to get out accurate information first and (2) employing strategies to evict misinformation that’s already filled the gaps before they could.

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