A documentary about vaccine hesitancy to launch a new public health initiative

The School of Public Health’s Pandemic Center will host a screening of the new documentary A Shot in the Arm on Monday, October 30 at 6:00 p.m. Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy and executive produced by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the film explores the history of vaccine hesitancy and its relevance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film, which began as a measles project before turning to COVID-19, includes interviews with Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as interviews with “anti-vaccine activists.”

The screening is the first event in the Pandemic Center’s year-long initiative exploring “storytelling as a public health intervention,” according to the event description. Titled ‘Our Famous Health Film and Media Series’, the initiative will include film screenings, campus talks and workshops.

“The interesting thing is that many of the successes in public health are invisible,” said Jennifer Galvin ’95, an epidemiologist and documentary filmmaker. “In fact, it’s not just about science communication and creating infographics. It’s really about “How do we shine a light on the invisible work of public health?”

“Documentary at its best makes the invisible visible,” she added.

The screening at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts will be free and open to the public, according to Bentley Holt, communications and outreach specialist at the Pandemic Center. It will be followed by a panel discussion with Galvin and journalist Maggie Fox.

The broader initiative is co-curated by Galvin with Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center and professor of epidemiology. The two met in graduate school at Harvard and are now reconnecting at Brown. “She and I have been talking about big ideas in public health for more than 20 years now,” Galvin said in an interview with The Herald.

The center’s program is part of Brown Arts IGNITE, a new university-wide initiative that features a series of diverse creations on campus and in Rhode Island.

“What was the catalyst for us was the Brown Arts IGNITE funding opportunity,” Nuzzo said. “It was an important chance to put some ideas down on paper.”

“I don’t think we’ve yet fully embraced or learned how to use the power of narrative and storytelling as one of our interventions,” she added.

Galvin said she is excited to work with SPH on this project. She believes the university’s interdisciplinary culture is the perfect environment to share her own work with filmmaking and public health, and is excited to highlight what media can convey to the world that more conventional public health interventions cannot.

Nuzzo echoed that sentiment: “Just talking to people about facts is not enough. … If we hope to change health behaviors, we’re really going to have to reach people’s hearts and minds in addition to providing facts,” she said.

That’s what “Shot in the Arm” aims to achieve. The film puts “a face on some of these issues,” Galvin said. It’s “all about combining thinking and feeling.”

Over the next year, the Pandemic Center series will explore the potential for using other art forms as methods of public health intervention. According to Nuzzo, each of these events will be followed by discussions on the topic at hand, which won’t always be related to the pandemic — in fact, most won’t be.

The duo hopes to select future films that cover all kinds of public health issues: climate change, environmental injustice, the opioid crisis, gun violence and more.

They also want to expand this initiative in the coming years by collaborating with other university departments and encouraging students of all interests and concentrations to be a part of history, Galvin said.

In the near future, Galvin and Nuzzo hope this first event goes beyond the Brown community. “It’s also an opportunity to take down the gates and allow the larger community beyond our walls to come in and participate in these conversations as well,” Nuzzo said.

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