By Miriam Raftery
September 3, 2021 (San Diego) – After more than 14 hours of heated testimony, San Diego County Supervisors voted 3-2 late Tuesday night to declare medical misinformation a public health crisis.
The prescribed cure? A directive for the county’s chief administration officer to implement recommendations of the U.S. Surgeon General to identify and label health misinformation, along with strategies to expand outreach in partnership with medical and community partners to provide facts about COVID-19.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy praised San Diego’s first-in-the-nation action on her Twitter feed, stating, “It’s the kind of bold action we need to ensure we all have accurate, science-based information to inform our health.”
Today, the state Assembly followed the County’s lead, passing a resolution declaring medical misinformation a statewide public health crisis. That resolution was introduced by Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), a medical doctor.
The local measure drew both strong opposition and support. Supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson, both Republicans, voted against it, while Democrats Nora Vargas, Terra Lawson-Remer and Chair Nathan Fletcher voted in favor.
Desmond told KUSI that over 400 people voiced opposition. “Misinformation I agree is dangerous, however, it is hard for me to believe that we or anyone we know knows everything about medicine. Today’s facts may be tomorrow’s misinformation.”
Some have voiced concerns that the measure might stifle free speech, though it does not prohibit anyone from speaking their views. It does, however, create a framework to combat statements that public health officials deem misleading.
But others contended that false or misleading information is harming patients’ health and dissuading some from getting vaccinated or accepting medically-proven treatments. Ingesting large doses of Ivermectin, a horse deworming drug, for example can cause serious damage to the intestinal tract or even death
“Medical misinformation is prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic nationally, and it requires all of us coming together to right back and slow the spread of misinformation,” Chairman Fletcher said.
Those speaking in favor included representatives from local hospitals and medical centers, who testified that hospital resources are overwhelmed by a flood of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
Specifically, the new County policy requires the chief administrative officer to implement Murthy’s recommendations by utilizing these strategies:
- devote resources to identify and label health misinformation and disseminate timely health information to counter misinformation that is impeding the county's ability to keep the community safe;
- modernize public health communications with investments to better understand gaps in health information, and questions and concerns of the community, especially in hard-to-reach communities. Develop targeted community engagement strategies, including partnerships with trusted messengers;
- expand research efforts to better define and understand the sources of health misinformation, document and trace its costs and negative impacts, and develop strategies to address and counter it across mediums and diverse communities;
- invest in resilience against health misinformation including digital resources and training for health practitioners and health workers. Explore educational programs to help communities distinguish evidence-based information from opinion and personal stories;
- partner with federal, state, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, research and other local entities to identify best practices to stop the spread of health misinformation;
- identify resource gaps to combat health misinformation and work with state and federal partners to meet ongoing needs; and
- work with the medical community and local partners to develop a website that will serve as a central resource for combating health misinformation in the community.