By Payton Hanby, Community Health Worker at Medical Arts Pharmacy
During the pandemic, health care providers and researchers around the world were focused on saving lives and preventing the spread of COVID-19, whether that was through developing vaccines, discovering how this virus affects the body, or through inventing new drugs to help those who are already infected with the virus recover from this devastating disease.
Two years and hundreds of millions of administered vaccine doses later, the global focus on health is beginning to shift away from reactionary care and damage control, and more towards preventative health and wellness. As we try to re-establish what “normal” is in our daily lives, what needs to change to make our post-pandemic world better than the pre-pandemic one? I believe this will depend on where we receive our health information from, and who we rely on as our leaders.
Two terms thrown around quite frequently need to be defined: misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation, according to Merriam-Webster, is incorrect or misleading information. Most often this is when information is interpreted incorrectly or taken out of context and passed along, sort of like the childhood game of telephone. The further along it travels, the higher the likelihood of erroneous information.
Disinformation, on the other hand, is defined as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth”. Without going too far in the weeds on conspiracy theories or the dark web, we are all familiar with the term "fake news" and the damage inaccurate information can have on our trust in the source of the information, whether that be our peers or the federal government. So who can we turn to and hope to receive good, up-to-date information for our health?
Research has shown that one of the most accessible healthcare professionals are pharmacists. At Medical Arts, we have tried our best both during and after the pandemic to be accurate sources of information. Our pharmacists have provided many interviews for local news stations, and have administered vaccinations at local corporations, for staff and students in local school districts, and for individuals who come through our doors. More recently, we’ve begun offering free PCR testing at our Fayetteville location and have at-home COVID-19 tests available that can be billed to most insurances for a $0 copay.
An important quality of leaders, regardless of their profession, is their ability to listen. It would be foolish to talk about COVID-19 vaccines and not acknowledge the hesitancy, misinformation, and disinformation surrounding this topic. We recognize that reliable, accurate medical information and addressing the present misinformation and disinformation are key to establishing better public health in the community. In response to this, our pharmacy partnered with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN) for Project REACH, which allowed us to hire a community health worker to expand our outreach capabilities and to promote better health information surrounding vaccinations in the community.
As a community health worker and recently-graduated pharmacist, I hope to be a reliable source of accurate information for the people of Elkins, and I look forward to serving you in the months to come. My hope is that by educating the community about COVID-19 and vaccines, I can empower others to become leaders in promoting their own health and the health of their family members, friends, and community.