The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted late Tuesday to declare medical misinformation a public health crisis. It is believed to be the first local government in the nation to do so.
What You Need To Know
- The San Diego County Board of Supervisors late Tuesday night voted to declare medical misinformation a public health crisis
- It is believed to be the first local government in the nation to do so
- The 3-2 vote came at the end of a 15-hour meeting that included heated testimony from hundreds of residents, most of whom spoke against the measure
- Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher, the measure’s author, said misinformation “has led people to decline vaccines and use unproven treatments"
The 3-2 vote came at the end of a 15-hour meeting that included heated testimony from hundreds of residents, most of whom spoke against the measure, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The board’s three Democratic members voted for the resolution, while its two Republicans voted against it.
"Combating health misinformation needs to start on the ground, in counties and cities across our nation," said board Chairman Nathan Fletcher, the measure’s author. "San Diego County took the first step by becoming the first local jurisdiction in the country to align its policies with the U.S. surgeon general's recommendations to fight health misinformation. Health misinformation is a national crisis and it requires all of us to fight against it together."
Fletcher said misinformation “has led people to decline vaccines and use unproven treatments.”
In July, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning about the dangers of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and called on practically everyone, including local communities, to do their part to disrupt its spread.
Those who opposed the San Diego board’s policy said they were concerned it would infringe upon people’s freedom of speech. Fletcher clarified that it would not, adding that the resolution doesn’t include any penalties for misinformation.
“This will empower medical experts to lend their knowledge to provide people with info about what they may be hearing,” Fletcher said, according to KFMB-TV. “Our efforts today are to help us in the cause to get beyond COVID-19.”
The public health crisis declaration allows the county to take a series of steps, including:
Devoting sources to identifying and labeling health misinformation and disseminating timely information to combat it,
Modernizing public health communications with investments to better understand gaps in health information, as well as address questions and concerns of community members,
Expanding research efforts to better understand the sources of health misinformation, tracing its impact, and developing strategies to fight it,
Exploring educational programs to help communities distinguish between evidence-based information and personal stories.
Supervisor Jim Desmond, who voted against the resolution, said he agreed that misinformation 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.”
Ciana King, a nurse, argued that attempting to curb the debate around science is dangerous.
"You can believe in science and also ask questions,” she said, according to KFMB. “In fact, science is all about asking questions. Science is a constant discovery, and we know that the evidence is always changing.”
Some speakers called county officials tyrants and fascists and came across as threatening, according to The Union-Tribune.
Several representatives from San Diego-area hospitals spoke in favor of the measure, saying their resources are being stretched thin by the latest surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, largely among unvaccinated people.
"Misinformation is a poison to our communities," said Amber Ter-Vrugt, the senior director of government relations at Scripps Health.