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People to Watch: Epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe's focus is 'public' in public health

People to Watch: Epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe's focus is 'public' in public health

Published: Friday, January 7, 2022

The Tulsa World has featured OUr own epidemiologist, Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, in its latest edition of "People to Watch" for his research on interacting with the "public" in public health, especially in the era of COVID-19.

Lead On, Dr. Wendelboe! Read more by visiting or reading the text copied from the article below.

(story and photo courtesy of Tulsa World)

As a student, University of Oklahoma epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe says, he was “one of those always asking ‘How do you know that? How do we know that?’ Not to be a punk, but knowing that information is always being updated I wanted to know how that process linked.”

So Wendelboe has some understanding of those who are skeptical of pronouncements about the efficacy of vaccines and other public health measures, particularly in the era of COVID-19.

He says it is important to interact with the “public” in public health, not only to explain recommendations from scientists such as himself but to hear from people with the same questions he did as a student.

“People say, ‘We don’t know what the long-term effects of the vaccine are going to be because it’s so new.’ Of course I agree with that. We don’t know. But I can just share the calculations I’m making,” Wendelboe said.

For Wendelboe and other public health officials, those calculations are shaped by numbers — the effectiveness of a vaccine or other measure over a large population. He acknowledges individual exceptions, and says that’s why he recommends people with specific questions about the safety of vaccines for themselves personally to consult their physician.

“Some people will say, ‘I have a loved one who got vaccinated and they experienced a side effect that you guys haven’t talked about. You’re not being honest with the facts,’” said Wendelboe.

Wendelboe said that’s why it’s important for the public to participate in reporting programs such as V-Safe, which tracks vaccine reactions by daily and weekly follow-up text messages.

As a researcher, Wendelboe said, he’s trained to be honest with the public, but that over the past two years that has sometimes presented a conundrum. The public wants consistent, straightforward, yes-or-no answers, and those don’t always exist.

“The lesson I need to learn is how to be transparent and honest but still maintain the public’s trust,” he said.