Anne Zink, Alaska chief medical officer, participates in a briefing with Department of Health and Social Services officials to discuss the rise of the omicron variant of the corona virus, on Nov. 29, 2021. (screenshot)

Anne Zink, Alaska chief medical officer, participates in a briefing with Department of Health and Social Services officials to discuss the rise of the omicron variant of the corona virus, on Nov. 29, 2021. (screenshot)

Health officials speak on misinformation as pandemic nears end of 2nd year

Nearing the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic — at a time when many people are wary of the health care system and midterm elections dominate the news cycle — state health experts on Wednesday reflected on the larger social and political landscape in which the public health sector is operating and discussed the challenges officials face to combat misinformation.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a weekly science session that it’s important for people to realize that science changes as new information becomes available. She said that some may take that as mixed messaging; it’s really just how science evolves.

“Science is not a finite set of knowledge. It’s a journey,” Zink said. “Part of the reason we set up these (sessions) over two years ago now, was to make sure that you all as Alaskans could get your questions answered directly from Alaskans, who are here to serve you.”

Studies on emerging COVID-related conspiracy theories have seen links to information consumption habits — with people mistaking some social media posts as legitimate sources of news, the Associated Press reported last year.

Zink said members of the team at the Department of Health and Social Services are all paid by the state, not other interest groups or “big Pharma.” She also reiterated that their jobs aren’t the same as those performed by members of a medical or pharmacy board.

“We are here to support Alaskans with one mission, and that’s the health and well-being of Alaskans,” Zink said. “Again, we’re just here to provide information.”

Health officials have faced hostility from members of the public and even their own patients. During a media briefing in September, for example, state health experts fielded reports of “violence toward health care workers,” including being spat at and receiving threatening letters. Public health centers and local businesses have also reported instances of vandalism related to public health measures, including on the Kenai Peninsula.

Dr. Jeffrey Demain, the founder of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, on Wednesday echoed what Zink said, reiterating that while the media works to disseminate information quickly, sometimes scientists need more time to present scientific findings past the observation stage.

“There’s many parts to establishing standard of care, so it’s not just one layer,” Demain said. “It’s got to go through a proper process in order for us to be sure that it’s effective, so I think that may be one of the delays we see.”

Local and state health experts have repeatedly debunked misinformation as the science has evolved over the course of the pandemic — including warning against self-medicating for COVID with drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and assuring people that COVID vaccines are approved by federal health agencies and are not the same as gene-therapy technology.

“We’re not the whole health care infrastructure. We’re the team within public health here to share information and resources,” Zink said Wednesday. “We can’t tell you what to trust, we can’t tell you what not to trust. That is a decision that you have to make.”

The state science session is open to the public every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. To tune in, join the Zoom video conference or watch on the DHSS Facebook page live.

• Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development at its meeting Wednesday in Juneau. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s education board sends a $500M wish list for construction and maintenance to lawmakers

The state’s Board of Education and Early Development approved a priority list… Continue reading

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

(Getty Images)
Alaska Republicans head to the polls Tuesday with Trump, Haley and Ramaswamy on the ballot

On Super Tuesday, March 5, Alaska Republicans will join their counterparts in… Continue reading

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, speaks March 20, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Proposal to define a fetus as a person in Alaska’s criminal code faces pushback

Opponents testified that the bill would threaten Alaskans’ abortion rights

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House approves bigger merit scholarship for in-state high school students

The Alaska House of Representatives voted on Monday without opposition to raise… Continue reading

A mountain biker takes advantage of a trail at Eaglecrest Ski Area during the summer of 2022. The city-owned resort is planning to vastly expand its summer activities with a new gondola and the facilities by 2026. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Eaglecrest’s big summertime plans, including the gondola, get OK from planning commission

Ski area also planning new summit lodge, snowtubing park, bike trails and picnic pavilion by 2026.

Spruce Root was invited by the U.S. Forest Service to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)
Resilient Peoples and Place: Stronger Together in 2024 — A letter from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership

Founded in 2012, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is an Indigenous values-led… Continue reading

Students, parents and teachers rally outside Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé prior to a school board meeting Tuesday, seeking a change in the board’s decision to consolidate Juneau’s two high schools beginning with the next school year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Layoffs and larger classes planned along with consolidation at local schools, but BSA increase would help

District leaders not counting on funds approved by Legislature, due to veto threat by governor.

Most Read