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In Conversation with Professor Hawkins and her former Summer Intern Alex Pastrana (BC '22)

Last semester I interviewed Alex Pastrana, a Senior in the Morrissey College of Arts & Sciences at BC majoring in International Studies and minoring in Global Public Health and the Common Good. Alex was a student in my course last spring, Contemporary Issues in Public Health. We discussed her Global Public Health internship with me last summer, working on a project examining the impact of tobacco control policies on adolescent e-cigarette use and how policies influence where adolescents purchase e-cigarettes.

I was recently awarded a R21 grant from the National Cancer Institute and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products to further examine how state policies impact youth tobacco use. In collaboration with Professors Kit Baum and Rebekah Levine Coley, we will study how state policies that restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products and age restrictions affect tobacco use among 14-24-year-olds. Read more about it here.

Watch my interview with Alex here. Thanks for listening!

By Summer Sherburne Hawkins, Ph.D., MS
Assistant Professor at the Boston College School of Social Work

COVID-19 Vaccinations and the Common Good

The U.S. is reaching a tragic milestone: since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, more than 900,000 people have died because of COVID-19. Compared to other countries in the Global North, Americans are dying of COVID at higher rates–according to data analyses, at least 63% higher than in any other large industrialized country. This problematic situation seems to depend on the continued resistance of some sectors of the population to get vaccinated. In the past months, the vaccination rates increased. Now, “75.3% of the total population in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” However, “amid the current Omicron variant-related surge, unvaccinated people are at particularly increased risk for infection, severe illness, and death. As of January 31, 2022, White people accounted for two-thirds (66%) of people who are unvaccinated.”

Globally, COVAX–i.e., COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, the worldwide initiative that provides equitable access to COVID vaccines–shipped over 1 billion doses to 144 countries across the planet, 90% of which (nearly 900 million in total) went to lower income countries.

While striving to provide COVID vaccines to countries in the Global South, and accompanying them in making the vaccination campaign possible, what could help us in further promoting COVID vaccinations when people resist them? Serious, respectful, informed and civil dialogue seems to be essential. Obviously, authentic dialogue implies generous, shared and benevolent listening, enabling us to seek the truth together in a rigorous and demanding way, verifying what we consider to be our own truth. Within Christianity, truth is a person–Jesus Christ. Hence, no one can control or possess the truth and the only access to truth is relational, living a dynamic of encounter, discovery, and conversion.

Catholic social thought affirms the importance of dialogue and, through it, fosters the commitment of every person of good will to achieve the common good in inclusive ways and with a preference for the poorest and most vulnerable. Moreover, for Pope Francis, “underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person …, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups … Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good” (Laudato si’, no. 157).

Global health is a universal common good, for humanity and the planet. Following Pope Francis’s “concern for integral human development” (Fratelli tutti, no. 276), humankind is invited to protect and promote health as global common good. One hopes it is possible to seek together and promote what serves the good of all.

By Andrea Vicini, SJ
Michael P. Walsh Professor of Bioethics
Professor of Theological Ethics

Maintaining Global Partnerships in a Pandemic

In 2018, BC entered into a strategic alliance with seven other Catholic Universities from around the world with the goal of working collaboratively to tackle global health challenges. The Connell School of Nursing began collaborating with the Swiss Canton de Vaud in 2010, and has steadily grown the partnership over the last decade to include other global universities. Faculty and students from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (PUC) joined us when the program was held at Boston College in 2014. When the program (on alternate years) was held in Lausanne, Switzerland students and faculty from India, Singapore, and Korea have joined the Swiss, Chilean and Boston College faculty and students to further enrich the group’s learning.

On March 6, 2020 I had just returned from Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Melbourne campus with two students and other BC faculty, with plans to expand the summer program to include faculty and staff from ACU and Portugal’s Catholic University (UCP) and open up research and student exchange opportunities. The global pandemic forced us to suspend travel but we were able to pivot and create innovative ways to not only maintain but expand our partnerships.

In the summer of 2021, myself along with students from Boston College, PUC in Chile, Universidada Catolica Mozambique, Bethlehem University, and Hong Kong University participated in a collaborative on-line international learning (COIL). Students shared their country’s healthcare system, the impact of COVID-19, customs, values, beliefs as well as the educational path of their nursing workforce.

Recently, we met with our colleagues at ACU and are planning a COIL with the BC and ACU senior Nursing students for the Spring of 2022 to discuss healthcare issues resulting from the pandemic. Finally, I met with colleagues in Lausanne to attempt a joint in-person summer program for June of 2022. Initial planning includes a two-week program in Boston and a two-week program in Lausanne during the month of June. This will bring students and faculty together to discuss global healthcare challenges and opportunities once again.

Read more about our global partnerships here.

By M. Colleen Simonelli, Ph.D., RNC
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Clinical Professor in the Connell School of Nursing

Public Health and the Conflict in Ukraine

Most of us have watched the Russian invasion of Ukraine with horror, particularly the images emerging from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol. Sadly, yesterday the AP reported that the pregnant woman pictured in an iconic photograph, and her baby, have both died.

The immediate morbidity and mortality from the war are a public health threat that is obvious to anyone who reads the news coming out of Ukraine. Yet decades of public health research on war and other disasters have showed us that injuries from bombs, shelling, and combat are only the beginning of a public health crisis that is unfolding before our eyes and will reverberate for years—and generations—among those affected.

War destroys infrastructure that is critical to basic needs—food, water, and shelter. With constant shelling of cities, and humanitarian aid convoys unable to deliver supplies, many Ukrainians are left without these resources, potentially leading to death by starvation, dehydration, and exposure to elements. Additionally, lack of water treatment and basic sanitation can breed the spread of waterborne disease, as was seen in the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

War also leads to mental health effects. Post-traumatic stress is common among individuals who have lived through war, with one-third to one-half of refugees experiencing PTSD. Children are uniquely vulnerable to mental health effects of war, and child refugees arriving from Ukraine in Poland have been in severe distress from living through bombings and other atrocities, effects that are unlikely to dissipate even when the immediate threat has passed.

Health systems and critical infrastructure have been destroyed. Not only does this hamper the ability to provide treatment and care to injured soldiers and civilians, but all normal medical care has been disrupted. Those suffering from acute events (e.g. heart attacks) may be unable get basic care; diabetics cannot get insulin; chronic diseases will go undiagnosed and untreated; pregnant individuals and their infants cannot access appropriate perinatal care. And secondary prevention efforts like cancer screening fall to the bottom of the priority list, with potential health consequences long after the war ends.

Ukraine was coming out of a COVID-19 surge when the war began, and also had documented some cases of polio. Crowded conditions and poor sanitation for refugees and those in bomb shelters can spark explosive spread of communicable disease.

There is no easy way to end a note like this; it can be hard to find hope in the face of such cruelty and devastation. Personally, I am inspired and heartened by the work of Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen, who has provided over one million meals for refugees pouring over the Ukraine borders into Poland and other countries.

By Erika Sabbath, Sc.D.
Associate Professor in the BC School of Social Work

Preparing for Warmer Weather

Last month was National Cancer Prevention Month. As springtime descends upon us, the weather warms, and new fruits and veggies come back in season, it is a great time to review the American Institute for Cancer Research’s recommendations for cancer prevention. Some of these tips are easier in the warmer months, making it a great time to start some healthy habits, while others are particularly important to remember as we spend more time in the sun!

  1. Get active. I don’t think I’m alone in enjoying outdoor exercise way more than an indoor gym session. As the weather warms up over the next few months, take some time to walk or run around the reservoir, play spike ball with some friends, or do whatever you enjoy to move your body and soak up some Vitamin D! The American Cancer Society recommends adults get some combination of at least 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity and/or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week.
  2. Wear sun protection. The Australians said it best in the iconic “slip, slop, slap” campaign released in the early 1980s. “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.” In the early 2000s, “seek” and “slide” were added to this campaign to remind people to seek shade and slide on sunglasses to avoid eye damage. For sunscreen, remember that the CDC recommends reapplying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every 2 hours, or after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Other experts, however, including the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society, recommend an SPF of at least 30.
  3. Eat a healthy diet. Specifically, eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans and low in red and processed meat, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages. This means enjoy your barbecues this spring and summer, but maybe reach for a chicken breast on occasion instead of a burger, and grab whole-grain buns instead of white bread. Make sure to load up the rest of your plate with summer salads, beans, and yummy berries and melons! Enjoy the occasional lemonade and sweet tea (are my southern roots showing?), but make water your regular beverage of choice.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight. Keeping your weight within a healthy range is one of the top recommendations for cancer prevention. Talk to your doctor (and no one else!) about what this means for you, and maybe invite friends and family to join your healthy lifestyle habits this spring to help you all succeed in achieving your health goals.

For a complete list of cancer prevention recommendations, checkout the American Institute for Cancer Research website. In the meantime, have fun staying healthy in the sun this season!

By Lindsey Camp, Ph.D., RN, MPH
Assistant Professor in the Connell School of Nursing

The Twists and Turns of One’s Career Path

I have frequent conversations with undergraduates about their worries, future career paths and next steps after graduating from Boston College. I use my professional journey to demonstrate that they need to remain open because their future will be full of unpredictable wonderful opportunities.

My undergraduate Jesuit education shaped me to think about how my service could best benefit others. After graduating from The College of the Holy Cross, I volunteered at Boston City Hospital in the hospital playroom. I also volunteered for a residential program working with HIV infected children. These volunteer positions called me to dual careers in nursing and post-secondary education.

My journey has been rewarding and I have been able to integrate different types of service. I spent a week each summer at a camp for children with cancer and serious blood diseases for 20 years. I also served across Boston in programs related to food insecurity, homelessness, and adult literacy. Coming to Boston College was a treat as the mission of the school fit my own values and beliefs.

The Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 ended these opportunities for service. I wanted to contribute to the community and joined the Massachusetts Reserve Corps (MRC) as a nurse vaccinator. The devastation of the pandemic caused me to reflect on leading a more meaningful life. I felt a call to return to nursing and patient care. I am back at Boston Children’s Hospital as a staff nurse in ambulatory care. I have been able to integrate my current work and experience in MRC in the courses I now teach in public health and health policy.

I look forward to my continued journey in teaching, patient care and community service.

By Cassie Ryan, Ph.D., MPH, MSN, RN, CNE
Clinical Assistant Professor in the Connell School of Nursing and Woods College of Advancing Studies

Student Spotlights Coming Soon!