School of Public Health

What you should know about the COVID vaccine rollout

By Sally Crocker

Covid VaccineAlmost one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world stands poised and hopeful for a safe return to everyday life. New vaccines are rolling out across the country to speed solutions to communities in Texas and other states, reaching front-line healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities and other priority groups first.

Over 300,000 Americans have died from complications of coronavirus and millions more have been impacted. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 60-70% of the population rolling up their sleeves could help achieve the needed levels for herd immunity to stop the spread of this disease.

“The Pfizer vaccine now being administered across the U.S. has been shown in clinical trials to be more than 94% effective at stopping or slowing coronavirus,” said HSC epidemiologist Erika Thompson, PhD. Dr. Thompson is a faculty member in the HSC School of Public Health with a background in vaccines research and advocacy.

The key to fighting COVID will be widespread vaccine adoption over the coming months, as well as continuing to wear masks and practice safe social distancing.

“Keep the mask and continue to physically distance for now,” Dr. Thompson said, “it could take a while as vaccines are delivered and administered in phased rollouts across each state. Most people will probably have to wait months for vaccinations to become widely available to the public, as those with the most urgent risk factors are being prioritized first. We’ve already seen the first doses shipped to Fort Worth area hospitals for administration, which is great news.”

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines each require two doses at timed intervals weeks apart. What’s still to be determined is the level of effectiveness at each step along the way. For some people, that may mean symptoms are reduced if they do get sick, but they might still be contagious to others. It might mean annual boosters could be needed. Public health experts caution that the coronavirus may never entirely be stamped out and might become one of the many seasonal viruses we prepare for each year.

Are there side effects?
Vaccine manufacturers have advised that possible, mild side effects could include muscle aches, fatigue, fever, chills and headache. There’s a chance that other side effects may turn up over time as more people are vaccinated.

“Any vaccine may have side effects,” Dr. Thompson said, “but the most important consideration is that the lifesaving prevention generally far outweighs the risks for the individual and the broader community.”

Research has shown that people tend to fall into one of three categories when it comes to vaccinations: those who receive all recommended vaccines, those who never will and those who approach vaccines with some hesitancy. Some people may forego vaccinations that aren’t required, thinking they may not be as important, while others may fear getting sick with the very disease vaccines are designed to prevent.

For those who fear catching the flu from an annual flu shot, as an example, it’s just not the case, Dr. Thompson said.

“The timing is more likely coincidental – maybe you’ve been exposed to a cold or the flu around the same time as receiving your immunization, but you’re not going to get the flu from the flu shot,” she said. “Public confidence in the COVID vaccine program will be important if we really want to beat this disease. We need to make COVID vaccination the norm. I’m personally looking forward to getting the vaccine when the time comes.”

Reaching those most impacted by COVID
Populations of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, yet the African American, Latino and Native American communities who most need the vaccine may be hesitant to get it. Past harm done to Black communities by medical research injustices in historical cases like the Tuskegee Study of decades ago have created layers of distrust that may be hard to break through. Today, systems are in place to protect people, from Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations on research to the FDA protocols required before any vaccine ever reaches the market.

HSC is involved in efforts across Texas to reassure these communities that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective, and to encourage their participation, through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) program called Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities. The Texas CEAL Consortium is led by Dr. Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, Regents Professor and Founding Director for the HSC Texas Center for Health Disparities.

Researchers across HSC like Dr. Thompson are involved in the project, including Dr. Erica Spears, Dr. Teresa Wagner, Dr. Usha Sambamoorthi and Dr. Emily Spence, who are focusing on populations in 12 Tarrant County zip codes of highest priority. Using a community-based participatory research approach, various organizations and community leaders have partnered with HSC in this effort. The United Way of Tarrant County, DFW Community Health Worker Association, Tarrant County Public Health and the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth are working with HSC faculty to design and implement the Tarrant County CEAL projects.

The outlook for 2021
“A lot of the work being done now involves building public confidence in the vaccines,” Dr. Thompson said, “to help everyone across the state and the U.S. get answers to their questions, to dispel myths and any misinformation being shared, and to help people feel comfortable and ready as each state follows its distribution plan for a phased rollout over the coming months.”

“This is quite an undertaking, and it’s not going to happen overnight, so it will involve some patience from all of us, and an acknowledgement that what we know now may change as more vaccines are administered to more people and we monitor results. This is how science works and how breakthroughs are accomplished, as we respond, learn, adjust and beat the virus together,” she said.

Covid Vaccine
School of Public Health

New Executives in Residence program gives MHA students an added benefit

By Sally Crocker

Mha Execs In Residence

One of the best ways to prepare for a career is to learn firsthand from experts in the field. HSC Master of Health Administration (MHA) students now have that opportunity, through a new Executives in Residence program, putting them in touch with seasoned healthcare executives, thought leaders and authors recognized for their achievements and unique perspectives.

“We are thrilled to introduce this new initiative,” said MHA Program Director Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE. “We view Executives in Residence as key partners in helping to prepare HSC students for their important leadership roles of the future.”

Executives in Residence can be involved in a variety of ways, from guest lecturing in MHA courses; providing exclusive talks for faculty, preceptors and alumni; serving as expert judges on program case studies and competitions; mentoring select students; offering insight into industry trends and career preparation; and partnering in other ways related to advancing the profession of healthcare management.

The inaugural Executives in Residence class includes:

  • Cie Armstead, DBA, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Armstead is a nationally-recognized innovative leader in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). With more than 28 years’ experience as an association management professional, she previously led DEI strategy for the American Bar Association (ABA), providing consulting services to both internal ABA entities and bar associations across the country. She has also served as ABA President’s Senior Staff Advisor, and as Director of Litigation Section Periodicals. She is a frequent presenter, writer and consultant on DEI and association management topics, specializing in evidence-based practices and creating collaborative initiatives to achieve DEI objectives.
  • Jennifer Brown, Founder, President and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity consultant and author of the bestselling book “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace and The Will to Change.” Her new book, “How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive,” was released in 2019. Brown’s workplace strategies have been employed by some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, including Walmart, Microsoft, Starbucks, Toyota Financial Services and T-Mobile.
  • Joy D. Calloway, MHSA, MBA, Executive Consultant and Board Member, National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) and Founder & Principal of Joy D. Calloway. Calloway has been an integral leader and board member with NAHSE, the professional association dedicated to Black healthcare executives. A consultant and public speaker, Calloway heads her own firm, specializing in strategic planning and group process consultative services to businesses in various industries. Calloway has 27 years of professional healthcare and non-profit leadership experience.
  • Robyn Diaz, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Diaz oversees the legal affairs, technology transfer, compliance, internal audit and government affairs departments and manages outside counsel relationships. Before joining St. Jude, she was an in-house legal team member at MedStar Health, served as Adjunct Instructor and Academic Preceptor at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, and was an attorney with Crowell & Moring, LLP. She is Chair of the University of Memphis School of Law Institute for Health Law & Policy, and Vice Chair of both the American Bar Association Health Care Facility Operations Interest Group and Health Law Section Student Writing Competition. She is Board Counsel and serves on the Board of Directors Executive Committee of Memphis Child Advocacy Center.
  • Michael E. Frisina, PhD, founder and President, The Frisina Group, LLC. and The Center for Influential Leadership. Frisina is author of the bestseller, “Leading Yourself to a Higher Level of Performance,” published by the Center for Influential Leadership, 2014, and “Influential Leadership – Change Your Behavior, Change Your Organization, Change Health Care,” published by Health Forum, American Hospital Association Press, 2011, reprint 2014, Health Administration Press. He is a retired U.S. Army career officer and civilian healthcare executive who has achieved numerous professional honors and published over 50 papers and articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness. Dr. Frisina is Chairman of the Health Administration Advisory Council for American Public University/American Military University.
  • Ajith Pai, PharmD, MBA, FACHE, President, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne. Pai oversees day-to-day operations, advancing physician engagement and promoting effective employee, governance and community relations. He is responsible for ensuring achievement of the hospital’s goals for patient safety, clinical and non-clinical quality, operational performance and patient, physician and employee engagement. Dr. Pai is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) and is 2020 chairperson of the ACHE Asian Healthcare Leaders Forum.
  • Monica C. Vargas-Mahar, MHA, FACHE, Market Chief Operating Officer for The Hospitals of Providence, and Chief Executive Officer for the East Campus in El Paso, Texas. Vargas-Mahar provides strategic and operational leadership for the East campus and outpatient locations, with responsibility for four acute-care facilities and micro-hospitals in The Hospitals of Providence network. She has more than 15 years’ experience in healthcare administration and is active in her community and across the state, having served as Chair Elect for the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives; Board Chair of United Way of Greater El Paso; and on the boards of Texas Lyceum, Texas Hospital Association Council on Policy Development, and El Paso Community College Foundation. Vargas-Mahar was named a Modern Healthcare magazine “Up & Comer” in 2012.
  • Kenneth R. White, PhD, RN, FACHE, FAAN, author and UVA Health Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia School of Nursing. White is professor emeritus at University of Virginia School of Nursing and Professor Emeritus of Health Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has more than 45 years’ experience in healthcare organizations, working in clinical, administrative, governance and consulting capacities. He is a board-certified acute care nurse practitioner with specialty board certification in palliative care. He has authored nine books on healthcare management and nursing leadership. He is president-elect of the American Academy of Nursing and founding chair of the American College of Healthcare Executives LGBTQ Forum. Dr. White was honored with the ACHE Gold Medal Award for healthcare leadership excellence in 2019.
Mha Execs In Residence
School of Public Health

Dr. Stephan Davis appointed to American College of Healthcare Executives Council of Regents

Stephan Davis Hsc
Dr. Stephan Davis

Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, MHA Director and Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) School of Public Health, has been appointed to the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Council of Regents, the organization’s national legislative body. The Council of Regents serves as the link between ACHE and members by approving governance and membership regulations as well as promoting ACHE programs, services and activities within their respective areas.

Dr. Davis’ three-year term will begin on March 20, 2021, prior to ACHE’s 64th Congress on Healthcare Leadership. As a Regent-at-Large, Dr. Davis will represent members in ACHE District 4, encompassing 10 states including Texas, Dr. Davis’ home state of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The role of the Regent-at-Large is to promote diversity in the governance of ACHE with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. Dr. Davis’ appointment builds on his work related to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as his work over the years with ACHE. He currently serves on ACHE’s national faculty and as Chair of the ACHE LGBTQ Forum. He has presented at Congress and via national ACHE webinars on diversity, equity and inclusion. Dr. Davis also recently contributed to a national report on advancing diversity and inclusion in health professions learning environments with the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. He will be one of six ACHE nationally-appointed Fellows to serve as Regent-at-Large.

ACHE is an international professional society of more than 48,000 healthcare executives leading hospitals, healthcare systems and other healthcare organizations. ACHE’s mission is to advance healthcare management excellence.

Dr. Davis joined the HSC School of Public Health in May 2020. Since then, the MHA program faculty have revised the program mission and vision statements and established diversity, equity and inclusion as a programmatic cornerstone.

Stephan Davis Hsc
School of Public Health

Myths and truths about false news

By Sally Crocker

Social MediaDear Aunt Kathy spends a lot of time on social media. She likes to share cute animal videos, funny observations … and sometimes, false news. A lot of folks know someone like Kathy, maybe a close friend or relative, an acquaintance or a connection of a connection online.

When people post or share false news, researchers have found, there is a tendency to stick with their positions even when reliable sources point otherwise. Discussions can grow exhausting and relationships can become strained, sometimes breaking apart.

Politics, trusted institutions, coronavirus facts, public health guidelines and the believability of scientists and medical professionals have all come into question in 2020, with friends unfriended and even close connections becoming divided.

What’s the mindset behind this phenomenon?

Scott Walters
Dr. Scott Walters

“You can look back 80 years to the development of Rumor Theory and how unconfirmed messages spread from person to person,” says Scott Walters, PhD, HSC School of Public Health Regents Professor. “It’s the same today. Rumors are more likely to spread when there is uncertainty, urgency, and anxiety around what’s happening. If there is a lot of emotion, the threshold for evidence goes way down.”

These things may have always been true, but social media has amplified it in recent years. Fallout from the spread of false health information is especially concerning when it comes to public health information like COVID-19 precautions, vaccines and lifesaving medical advice, says Dana Litt, PhD, HSC Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems.

Dana Litt
Dr. Dana Litt

Dr. Litt worries that today’s misinformation can have a far greater impact because of the way social media connects millions of people through a single comment, video or viral share.

“One way to combat misinformation is through media literacy training, which teaches people to critically evaluate the why’s and who’s behind what they see in the media and online,” she says. “When someone shares information about vaccinations, for example, does that person have a reason to sway you in a certain direction? Are they showing the full story? Are their sources credible?”

With age and experience, people sometimes become more invested in their beliefs and are less apt to change them, making it even more important to build health and media literacy skills early in life, Dr. Litt says.

“Going back in history, you’d have to print flyers or shout your message in the streets to communicate to the masses, but now anyone on social media has that ability,” Dr. Walters notes.

“Even if the information is disproven or disputed, it can be too late. The first mention of something—whether true or not, and even if retracted later—gets the most attention. The tendency is to double down on the initial message, rather than adjust your opinion.”

Science explains a lot. False news tends to be more novel and is more likely than truth to inspire fear, disgust, surprise or other strong emotions. False news blurs the lines between fact and opinion, enabling anyone to be an “expert.”

Part of its strength is in the fuzziness of the message, “making it unclear what the truth is or even if there is truth,” says Dr. Litt.

False news covers a number of categories. Misinformation is inaccurate and may deliberately be intended to deceive. Disinformation involves intentionally misleading or manipulated facts. While the term “fake news” has come to mean different things to different people, it is defined as deliberate fabrication that mimics the style of mainstream news, often in sensational, emotionally charged ways; these stories most often lack verifiable facts, quotes or sources. Trolls involve real people posting online to provoke others for their own amusement or as part of a coordinated effort to sway opinions and behaviors.

“Disinformation trolls depend on people debunking what they are saying, which often means we repeat the falsehood in our efforts to correct disinformation,” Dr. Litt says, “so instead, we should stay focused on the positive and state only the factual.”

“Some online misinformation doesn’t make much difference, like the rumor that Adele will be headlining the Super Bowl halftime show when it’s actually The Weeknd. But health related misinformation can make a big difference,” Dr. Walters says.

“If you’re saying that vaccines cause autism (they don’t) or masks spread COVID (also untrue), that can affect real-life behavior and ultimately people’s risk for getting sick. People might take actions that are harmful to themselves or their communities.”

Lately, social media platforms have begun labeling certain types of false news to help users discern what’s accurate. Response has been mixed, with the actions applauded by some and labeled as censorship by others.

New social media platforms have emerged, attracting millions to their sites with the promise of unrestricted access to information. From a social psychology perspective, both professors note, the more people feel their access to something is being limited, the more favorably they tend to feel about it and the more they want it.

For any online experience, what are the best ways to manage potentially false information?

“Approach it with a critical eye as you consider the sources and their credibility,” Dr. Walters offers. “Everything online looks the same – a well-designed false news story looks just like a legitimate one. The key to detecting a false narrative is to look in legitimate places for verification. Universities are good sources, as are trusted media sites that have long been respected for accurate journalism. If you’re paying for your news, it’s probably better quality. If you’re not paying for it, the source is earning money another way, perhaps through heavy advertising or sensationalism.”

What about that great aunt, old high school friend or distant cousin who posts a steady stream of questionable ‘news’?

“I would approach these instances on a case-by-case basis. You might want to consider your level of closeness with the sharer, and tailor your approach and delivery to that. Sometimes it’s okay to walk away if there’s nothing you can say to change a person’s mind,” Dr. Litt says. “To preserve a relationship, you might share an unspoken agreement not to talk about certain things on public spaces like social media. As much as we might want to ‘win,’ is it worth it?”

“It’s totally fine sometimes to just call a truce.”

Private conversations are sometimes more productive, rather than debating or unfriending people you disagree with online, Dr. Walters suggests.

“Social media is an enormous space. There are lots of opinions and that’s a great thing. But these platforms are not good places for thoughtful debate. They are like giant bulletin boards – if you want a discussion, people might be more open one-on-one,” he says. “And if not, it’s okay to agree to disagree.”

Social Media