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Health Misinformation is a Public Health Crisis

San Diego County Board Chair Nathan Fletcher led an effort to make San Diego County the first city or county government in the country to declare health misinformation a public health crisis.

On August 31st, 2021, the measure passed by a 3-2 margin and represents the first step to recognizing health misinformation as the threat to public health that it is, and expresses the County’s commitment to taking the necessary steps to close the vaccine gap and realize better health outcomes by affirmatively countering health misinformation. 

Addressing misinformation starts at the local level, in our communities. We see evidence of what happens when we ignore it, and allow misinformation to fester. 

We hope that by becoming the first in the nation to call out health misinformation as a public health crisis, we are taking the next step towards realizing the public health goals that vaccines and medical advances are promising. We hope to be joined by many other cities and counties. 

This is about taking a more active role in developing resources to combat misinformation in order to help our community make informed health choices. 

We are building on recommendations by the public health experts at Johns Hopkins , the U.S. Surgeon General, and many other trusted sources.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that the hospitalization cost of treating preventable Covid-19 in unvaccinated patients during June and July alone was $2.3 billion -- with the costs "borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly."

Why is Misinformation a Public Health Crisis?

The local and national surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since vaccines became widely available in mid-April has once again threatened to strain hospital resources and put the health and safety of our community at risk. 

Empirical data and the broad scientific consensus suggests COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective against preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death from the Delta variant. Yet, misinformation and disinformation has played a significant role in undermining vaccine utilization and compliance with public health guidelines, such as those related to masks. Misinformed beliefs about vaccines and public health guidelines have turned this into what many have labeled a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

With the vaccine in hand, the greatest threat to public health is health misinformation, no longer COVID-19 itself or any of its variants. As our community and our country looks to turn the page on the pandemic, and as a booster shots become more important to maintaining our recovery, confronting and combating misinformation becomes vital and essential to saving lives and realizing our shared public health goals. 

What does declaring misinformation as a Public Health Crisis do? 

  • Devote more resources to identify and label health misinformation and disseminate timely health information to counter misinformation that is impeding our ability to keep our 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 our research efforts to better define and understand the sources of health misinformation, document and trace its negative impacts, and develop strategies to address and counter it across mediums and diverse communities. 
  • Investing in resilience against health misinformation including digital resources and training for health practitioners and health workers. Exploring educational programs to help our communities distinguish evidence-based information from opinion and personal stories.
  • Partner with federal, state, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, research, and other local partners to identify best practices to stop the spread of health misinformation, and develop and implement coordinated recommendations. 
  • Identify resource gaps to combating health misinformation and working with state and federal partners to meet ongoing needs. 

What they’re saying about the San Diego County’s Declaration 

"On Tuesday night, @SanDiegoCounty Board of Supervisors voted to declare health misinformation a public health crisis. I'm grateful @SupFletcher took on this issue -- it's the kind of bold action we need to ensure we all have accurate, science-based information to inform our health."

-Tweet by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy 

“Health-related misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined public health efforts and has led to increased case numbers, putting an incredible burden on hospital systems. Yet this threat has not been met with the coordinated and concerted efforts necessary to combat the problem. I’m excited that the County of San Diego and its Board has taken the first step towards responding to this urgent threat to public health and I look forward to working with them and other local governments to inform a coordinated approach to building a resilient health information ecosystem.” 

-Tara Kirk Sell , Ph.D., MA, Senior Scholar, and Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health / Center for Health Security 

“Patients face a very challenging information environment as they try to keep themselves and their families healthy. Local communities working together in partnership with healthcare professionals can help patients find trustworthy information and avoid the pitfalls of medical misinformation.” 

-Brian Southwell , Senior Director, Science in the Public Sphere, RTI International, and co-founder of the Duke Program on Medical Misinformation at Duke University

“Government agencies have a responsibility to do the kind of things that they are doing here. If they are going to play a role of protecting public health, communication is central to that.”

Daniel Hallin, communication professor at UC San Diego

Important Documents on Health Misinformation

Board Letter declaring Health Misinformation a Public Health Crisis 

Resolution declaring Health Misinformation a Public Health Crisis

U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Confronting Health Misinformation

Johns Hopkins National Priorities to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation for COVID-19 and Future Public Health Threats: A Call for a National Strategy

News: Health Misinformation is a Public Health Crisis

COVID Misinformation is a Threat to Public Health. Sacramento County Is Right to Combat It

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In recent months, the public comments at Sacramento County’s Board of Supervisors meetings have gone completely off the rails, usurped by conspiracy theorists and misinformation that undermines the county’s efforts to rid our community of COVID-19.

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SACRAMENTO COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTING ON HEALTH MISINFORMATION RESOLUTION SEPT. 14

09/10/21

Sacramento County Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Dennis Kennedy have introduced a resolution denouncing health misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic; making Sacramento County the fourth county government to join the fight against health misinformation. Their Board of Supervisors will consider the item on September 14.

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NEVADA’S CLARK COUNTY IS JOINING THE FIGHT AGAINST MEDICAL MISINFORMATION

09/09/21

Nevada is now joining the fight against medical misinformation. Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones has announced he’s bringing forward a policy to declare medical misinformation a public health crisis; following the lead of San Diego County and joining a growing list of elected leaders who have taken similar action, including Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber of the California State Assembly and Supervisor Luis Alejo from Monterey County.

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Meet The Press: Chair Fletcher Combats Health Misinformation

09/09/21

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CALIFORNIA ELECTEDS FOLLOW SAN DIEGO COUNTY’S LEAD ON HEALTH MISINFORMATION POLICY

09/03/21

Chair Nathan Fletcher’s policy -- the first in the United States -- to make medical misinformation a public health crisis has inspired elected officials from other areas of California to join the fight against medical misinformation. Today, the California State Assembly approved a measure brought forward by Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber, and on Thursday Supervisor Luis Alejo from Monterey County said he plans to bring forward a medical misinformation policy in his community.

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San Diego County launches campaign to counteract misinformation about COVID-19

09/02/21

San Diego County will ramp up efforts to counter medical misinformation after the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to declare medical misinformation a public health crisis.

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U.S. SURGEON GENERAL APPLAUDS CHAIR NATHAN FLETCHER FOR HEALTH MISINFORMATION POLICY

09/02/21

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy today praised San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher for his “bold action” to draft and pass policy declaring medical misinformation a public health crisis. Chair Fletcher’s policy makes San Diego County the first in the nation to take on medical misinformation, a recognized contributor to vaccine hesitancy, the rising cases, and hospitalizations.

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San Diego County delcares misinformation a public helath crisis

09/01/21

San Diego’s County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared medical misinformation a public health crisis. The move is an effort to turn attention to factual medical information and away from inaccurate or misleading facts, especially as the highly infectious delta variant continues to spread throughout the country, driving up cases nationwide.

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California County is First in U.S. To Label COVID-19 Misinformation a Public Health Crisis

09/01/21

Officials in a Southern California county celebrated on Wednesday after declaring COVID-19 misinformation a "public health crisis."

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SAN DIEGO COUNTY BECOMES 1st IN NATION TO DECLARE COVID-19 MISINFORMATION A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

09/01/21

San Diego County tonight became the first county in the nation to declare that using health misinformation is causing a public health crisis in their community. Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors authored the policy.

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San Diego County Supervisors Right to See COVID_19 Misinformation as Public Health Threat

09/01/21

It’s rare that 250 people sign up to speak at a local government meeting, and it’s rare for a local government meeting to last 15 hours. But that’s what happened at a San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting that pit public health against public comment Tuesday. How the meeting ended was rarer still. In fact, it was unprecedented.

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San Diego County calls medical misinformation a health crisis after 15-hour debate

08/31/21

After a 15-hour-long, sometimes rancorous meeting, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a measure declaring medical misinformation a public health crisis.

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