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“Omicron is Mild”: Sociopolitical Use and Misuse of Infectious Diseases in the Era of Pathogen Genomics

Department of Bioethics and Health Humanities
Samuel G. Dunn Lectureship in the Medical Humanities
Department of Global Health and Emerging Disease
Summer Seminar Series

“Omicron is Mild”: Sociopolitical Use and
Misuse of Infectious Diseases in the Era of
Pathogen Genomics

Sanghyuk Shin, PhD
Associate Professor, Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing
Director, UCI Infectious Disease Science Initiative
University of California, Irvine

Thursday, June 15, 2023
Room 3.201 Health Education Center
Register for Zoom HERE

Lunch provided, first come first served

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Recent advances in infectious disease genomic science have led to an explosion of scientific knowledge about infectious disease virulence, transmission, and treatment. For example, unprecedented sequencing and rapid genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 have enabled early detection of emerging variants with profound public health and societal implications. Genomic surveillance has also led to the detection of emerging tuberculosis strains that are resistant to multiple drugs, including new drugs that have only recently been deployed. Moreover, genomic epidemiology allows detection of transmission “hot spots”, “super-spreaders”, and “super-spreading events” for numerous infectious diseases, including COVID-19, tuberculosis, and HIV. These methods have become indispensable for outbreak investigations, by providing a genetic footprint for transmission histories of infectious diseases. However, the rapid deployment of infectious disease genomic science has not been followed by sufficient analysis and discussion of public engagement and societal impact of these promising scientific developments. In particular, social and political actors have leveraged the emerging public knowledge and discourse around pathogen genomics (e.g. COVID variants) to advance their aims, including weakening of public health measures, stigmatization and overpolicing of marginalized groups, and geopolitical posturing against foreign policy targets, such as China. In this lecture, I will explore these emerging dynamics situated within the context of a long history of the use of infectious disease threats for sociopolitical aims in the United States. My lecture will be from a perspective of a genomic epidemiologist and public health scientist, with a focus on strategies for scientists to minimize harms that could arise from the misuse of pathogen genomic knowledge.

Event Information

“Omicron is Mild”: Sociopolitical Use and Misuse of Infectious Diseases in the Era of Pathogen Genomics
, 2023 - -
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