Why marketers must understand the country's long history of 'health freedom'

Healthcare communication professionals may have a more difficult time promoting COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. than in other parts of the world, as the country has a history of "health freedom" that dates back to its colonization, according to vaccine expert Peter Hotez, MD, PhD.

In an Aug. 15 opinion column published in The Dallas Morning News, Dr. Hotez wrote that health freedom, also referred to as medical freedom, "represents a longstanding and pervasive belief system in American life."

"Its tenets espouse an aversion to government interference in personal or family health choices, often coupled with the counterpromotion of a spectacular or miracle cure," he wrote.

Currently, health freedom's central issues are concerned with defying government and business-imposed interventions as they relate to social distancing, mask wearing and vaccinations. While the concept dates back to the nation's earliest days, Dr. Hotez argues that the anti-science beliefs often purported by supporters of health freedom must be challenged and dismantled. 

He suggested the U.S. consider a federal interagency task force to create new programs to tackle anti-science groups and online health misinformation.

"The U.S. was the deadliest location worldwide for the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, and in 2021, we will hold our breath as the new variant sweeps through the country," Dr. Hotez wrote. "The high death toll from COVID-19 was exacerbated by a medical freedom ideology linked to political extremism. It is vital to U.S. public health and homeland security that we find ways to defuse anti-science organizations, messaging and health consequences."


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