David R. Stukus, MD, FACAAI, of Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and a board member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, discusses the connection between health literacy and lack of trust in science and also addresses allergy concerns toward COVID-19 vaccines.
David R. Stukus, MD, FACAAI, director, Food Allergy Treatment Center, and associate director, Pediatric Allergy & Immunology Fellowship Program, Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine, discusses the connection between health literacy and lack of trust in science, as well as addresses allergy concerns toward COVID-19 vaccines.
His presentation at this years American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, "Practical Tools to Combat Misinformation in Your Practice," will take place on Saturday, November 6, during the symposium "Combating Misinformation in Medicine."
Stukus is also an ACAAI board member.
Is there a connection between health literacy levels and willingness to accept false beliefs or not trust science?
Absolutely. It's not necessarily a willingness to believe. When you have low health literacy, it's not just the ability to read—that's literacy. Health literacy is really the ability to seek out and identify accurate information, understand the information, and then apply that information to one's own health. So, it's really multiple steps.
For those who have low health literacy, which really is a significant portion of the general population, they have a hard time understanding basic prescription instructions about when to take the medication, how much to take, how often to take it, and things like that. It also impacts their ability to monitor chronic conditions over time to know when to seek medical care, call their doctor, or make changes to their own treatment regimen.
So when you have low health literacy, you are more susceptible to the rampant misinformation that is available online. You're more likely going to believe anecdotal reports or really the emotional-generating scary stories that people use. We're seeing it all over the place just now with you know, COVID-19 vaccines being eligible for children 5 to 11 years of age. It's like the Super Bowl for the antivaccine community. They're very coordinated, and they're very powerful in the messages that they send.
So for folks with low health literacy, they are more susceptible to these negative messages that can impact the medical decision-making.
Are there medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine from an immunologist or an allergist perspective?
There's virtually no medical contraindication, period, to getting one of the vaccines. There may be some groups where they may not be very helpful, you may want to wait—especially for those getting chemotherapy or who have suppressed immune systems, as they may not respond very well. From an allergy standpoint, we know that anaphylaxis occurs very, very rarely, less than 4 in every million doses. And even those who have anaphylaxis to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, they can often get [a second dose], and the vast majority tolerate it just fine.
We have a lot to figure out. So if there are concerns about either allergy to the COVID-19 vaccine components or to the first dose of the vaccine, allergists are ready and willing to help people tease out risk and benefit from that. We can almost always find a way to get them vaccinated, whether we use a different formulation of the vaccine or whether we take some mild precautions to make sure they do well. It's very encouraging.