Introduction

On Saturday, April 6th, NBCSL hosted a panel discussion on Immunization, in Houston, Texas. The discussion was moderated by Representative Rhetta Bowers of House District 113 in Texas, and the panel consisted of Dr. Candice Robinson, the Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health at GSK Vaccines; Dr. Frank North, Assistant Professor at the Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University; Senator Akbari, Vice President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and a Tennessee State Senator representing District 29; and Terri Burke, the Executive Director of The Immunization Partnership.

The panel opened with Dr. Robinson addressing the importance of immunizations and how receiving vaccines helps eradicate life-threatening diseases like Measles. This led to a candid discussion on the Measles outbreak in Florida and how Florida's legislation on vaccines is contributing to the outbreak of Measles and other diseases.

The conversation continued with Dr. North explaining the importance of pharmacists and the necessity of increasing the scope of care a pharmacist can provide. He emphasized how pharmacists can play a more direct role in vaccine distribution, reducing the need for patients to visit a primary care doctor for vaccinations. Additionally, he stressed the importance of having more pharmacists of color to connect with communities of color to bridge the gap in vaccine trust.

Senator Akbari and Ms. Burke furthered the discussion by focusing on the importance of legislation and advocacy for immunization. They highlighted the misinformation spread by legislators and news outlets on immunization, and how the politicization of vaccines has led to a decrease in the number of vaccinated individuals. The COVID-19 Pandemic was referenced extensively, with discussions on global misinformation affecting advocacy efforts for vaccination.

Senator Akbari emphasized the importance of proactively addressing vaccine debates in politics and providing accurate information to support the necessity of vaccines for societal well-being. She also stressed the significance of messaging, particularly in red states, and how effective messaging can influence legislation and vaccine distribution positively.

The panel concluded with a Q&A session, during which Representative Bowers asked thought-provoking questions. One question that sparked dialogue was on how social media, misinformation, and politics impact immunization efforts, and how state legislators can overcome these challenges. The panel emphasized the importance of engaging with constituents on their level, debunking misinformation, and advocating for the availability and distribution of vaccines effectively.

Overall, the discussion was deemed successful, with panelists feeling heard and legislators equipped with new education and tools to combat misinformation and advocate for vaccination availability and distribution.