Offering students who are interested in public health insight and guidance about the field is an important part of APHA’s mission. About 85 students at higher education schools across the nation met on Saturday for an all-day session with public health experts at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. 

Three student attendees at National Student MeetingThe National Student Meeting, which is organized by APHA’s Student Assembly, featured experts on vaccine equity, local food assistance, equity in mental health and legal challenges to public health. There was also a panel discussion on bringing more diversity to public health fields. Q&A periods allowed students to dig deeper into subjects.

Kaye Bender, outgoing APHA president, got the event off to an enthusiastic start by telling the students and early professionals how important they are to the development of the field.

U.S. public health has struggled with communication infrastructure and sometimes with messaging. But younger generations are adept at communication technology, are strong communicators and know how to innovate, Bender said.

"No one knows how to communicate better than you guys do,” she said. “It is in your generation, in your DNA. You can help us so much in communicating public health.”

In a preview of what will likely be a theme for some speakers during APHA 2022, Timothy Callaghan, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, discussed the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and what it might mean for vaccine uptake in the future.

He pointed out critical issues for health professionals and policymakers: the continuing rise of vaccine hesitancy, the role partisan politics has played in stoking the hesitancy and the continuing inequalities in vaccine uptake.

“Inequalities in vaccine uptake based on race and partisanship for COVID-19 will have clear, long-term consequences,” Callaghan said. 

This could result in U.S. outbreaks of other diseases usually controlled by vaccines, such as measles.

“The experiences of the pandemic appear to have spilled over to attitudes toward vaccines broadly,” he said. 

Another speaker was Raina Searles Sibanda, assistant director of program communication at Project Bread, a Boston nonprofit dedicated to local food security. Searless offered an uplifting message of how proper messaging, partnerships and organization can result in feeding more people and reducing stigma.

“Hunger is solvable, an economic problem, a political decision, a system of oppression and impossible to solve by charity alone,” Searles said.
For some of the students attending, such as LiMing Tseng, a doctoral student in acupuncture at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, APHA 2022 is their first Annual Meeting. 

Tseng, who learned of APHA 2022 from a public health professor at her college, said she was here to build connections and collaborations. She wants to further integrate acupuncture into the conversation on preventive health.

“Public health is a key to whole health,” she said, “and with the pandemic, many people are now more aware of what public health does.”

Louis Lin, a student at Harvard Law School interested in immigration law, is attending his second Annual Meeting. At the student event, he was intrigued by a talk by Angela McGowan, APHA senior director of Alliance for Disease Prevention and Response. McGowan spoke about efforts at the state and federal level to limit public health authority. 

On Sunday, Lin is presenting at the session 2075, “Public Health and Policy in Historical Context,” where he will explore how laws have been enacted under the pretext of public health to exclude immigrants from entering the U.S.

“One thing I look at is how public health has been weaponized to do some bad things,” Lin said.

Photo courtesy EZ Event Photography.