Angela R. Branche, MD, FIDSA
Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Rochester
Member, Infectious Diseases Society of America
Infectious diseases (ID) professionals are uniquely positioned to educate the public on the positive impact of vaccination and help protect people in the community against preventable infectious diseases.
Despite the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines in preventing severe illness and death, uptake rates are declining. This includes vulnerable groups, such as older adults and pregnant people. There are lower rates of children entering school with all state-required routine vaccines for the two years following the onset of the pandemic, leaving approximately 250,000 children unprotected against measles — a highly contagious virus.
Responsibility of infectious disease professionals
As an infectious diseases physician, I’m deeply concerned about these declining rates because I know how crucial vaccination is to prevent hospitalization, reduce the risk of developing debilitating long-Covid syndromes and save lives. Furthermore, marginalized groups, especially indigenous/Native Americans and Black and Hispanic communities, face disparities that have led to an understandable distrust of healthcare.
Infectious disease (ID) doctors can build trust and confidence in healthcare, though almost 80% of U.S. counties are without a single ID-trained clinician. The impact of this deficiency was felt most acutely as clinicians raced to improve Covid-19 vaccine uptake and curb the staggering morbidity and mortality straining our healthcare systems.
Because ID is a diverse field of medicine, we are trusted voices to many who struggle to understand or accept federal health care policies. ID physicians are also trained to convert complex biological processes into accessible health information.
Providing community support
In the conduct of clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines, we developed honest language around the science and safety of vaccines. Even with resources that are lacking in many other communities, the collective effort to inform, educate, build trust and ultimately vaccinate our local community was overwhelming. Many other communities are not as fortunate.
I fully support federal healthcare agencies, like the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which fund research and develop policies that safeguard the health of our communities. However, trust is built at the local practice level; when it comes to vaccines, infectious diseases physicians are essential to those efforts.