Home Therapeutic relationship Governor Dunleavy says he’s backing Zink as attacks on Alaska’s chief medical officer escalate

Governor Dunleavy says he’s backing Zink as attacks on Alaska’s chief medical officer escalate

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Dunleavy sits with her chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, during a fall 2021 press conference. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Republican Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said the state’s chief medical officer Dr Anne Zink still had his confidence, even as she became the center of growing attacks from the anti-vaccine movement and further criticism of the governor’s response to the pandemic.

Wasilla GOP Rep. Christopher Kurka, who is running for governor as a conservative alternative to Dunleavy, this week launched a “Fire Anne Zink” petition, saying he was pledging to impeach her “the first day of my administration”.

At a Dunleavy constituent event on Saturday in the conservative Mat-Su, members of the public cheered calls for Zink to be removed.

The governor at the event appeared to suggest that Zink’s position in his administration was uncertain, telling an attendee who had asked about Zink that he would “make a decision” about several members of his administration – not only one.

In a phone interview Wednesday, after some of Dunleavy’s critics attacked the governor for not defending Zink more aggressively, Dunleavy said she had “served Alaskans well” and that he “should have been clear “.

“I have no reason to fire Dr. Zink. Dr. Zink has my trust,” Dunleavy said.

“Is Dr. Zink guilty of giving advice? Yeah, that’s his job,” he added. “I don’t think she should be held responsible for people who don’t like the information. I think it’s all been politicized.

For his part, Zink, in a telephone interview, said “it was a difficult week”.

“It’s not new, but it has intensified,” she said.

Attacks against her include physical threats, Zink said, which have also increased recently. But she also added that she continues to have a good working relationship with Dunleavy, even if they don’t always agree.

“I can never talk about someone’s intentions as to why they respond or don’t respond in a situation – especially a live, in-the-moment situation. All I can talk about are my interactions and my relationship,” she said. “We continue to have regular conversations – we’ve never agreed on a lot of things, and that’s what I think has made us both stronger. And I appreciate how we let’s continue to tackle these challenges together and collaboratively.”

The Zink attacks come amid a nationwide hostile climate for public health officials.

Hundreds of top doctors like Zink have left the field in the past two years as the pandemic has increasingly polarized their work and made them targets for conservative-leaning elected officials and activists. Only 17 of the 50 state physicians in place at the start of the pandemic are still on the job, according to the Association of State and Territory Health Officials.

Zink, an emergency physician from Mat-Su, was hired just before the coronavirus pandemic began. Since then, she’s garnered a loyal following of Alaskans with her clear advice and lively social media presence.

Public opinion polls suggest more than half of Alaskans — 57% of respondents at the start of last year — think she’s handled the pandemic well, while only about 10% think she hasn’t. did not. Just 6% of people called Zink’s performance “rather bad” in an August poll, which showed even the majority of conservatives approved of his work.

Zink’s critics are “a very small group of people,” said Jennifer Meyer, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

“And the vast majority of us are very grateful for his service throughout this pandemic,” she said. “More of us are with her than against her.”

Dunleavy himself nominated Zink for a national award in November, saying she had “worked tirelessly” during the pandemic and her work had “saved thousands of Alaskans.”

Even as a minority, however, Zink’s critics are vocal and represent a slice of Dunleavy’s base in Mat-Su, where he lives. In an election year, they put increasing pressure on the governor to impeach her.

At the weekend’s constituent event, hosted by Tory activist Mike Coons, the audience cheered at least twice as attendees said Zink should be fired, with no direct response from Dunleavy.

He also did not respond directly when an audience member appeared to ask him specific questions about Zink, instead suggesting he was considering removing several members of his public health team.

“I will make that decision. I’m not going to have a discussion — I’m being honest with you — I’m not going to have a discussion here in front of people. But I will make a decision about the future, not just one staff member, but a number of staff members,” he said.

In Wednesday’s phone interview, Dunleavy dismissed the idea that he was trying to appease his audience and said he tried to avoid discussing personnel issues in a public forum.

“Personnel records, all personnel should be protected and not just discussed willy-nilly,” he said. “But here we are. And I understand – I understand that’s the issue of the day.

Kurka’s petition, meanwhile, says Zink endorses a “one size fits all” approach to “universal application of experimental COVID-19 vaccines for nearly all Alaskans” and “refuses to listen or act on any position.” medicine contradicting its recommendations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say vaccines are the best protection against COVID-19, are safe, and their benefits outweigh their risks. The coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the United States are also not experimental; although they are emergency approved, they have passed standard safety reviews and have not skipped any steps.

Kurka’s petition also states that Zink “does not support or respect the rights of Alaskans to maintain medical confidentiality, to obtain informed consent before receiving experimental treatment, or to try alternative preventive and therapeutic interventions.”

“This statement is evident in the actions, omissions, statements, and attitudes of Dr. Zink toward lawmakers, medical professionals, and anyone else who challenges the agenda of the Deep State, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and big pharma to which it credits its loyalty,” Jason Floyd, a spokesperson for Kurka, said in an email.

Zink, in the interview, said Alaska law gives him “almost no power or authority over anything,” whether it be hospital practices or physician prescribing authorities.

“We are incredibly and have been incredibly supportive, from day one, of patients and their providers having this relationship together,” she said. “No government should stand in the way of this and stand in the space of this. We’re just here to provide information and resources.

She added: ‘I’m a public servant who took on this role because I care passionately about the patients I’ve seen and seen systems fail them – and I felt we could do better for them. my friends, for my neighbors and for my fellow Alaskans.

Zink said she’s especially frustrated when people attack her based on their assumptions about what she and Alaska health officials are doing, rather than what they’re actually doing. And she invited residents to contact and question her, through the Health Department’s public science forums each Wednesday.

Asked about her enthusiasm to continue in her work, Zink admitted that “threats of physical violence are harsh”. But she also suggested that the pressure put on her made her “more committed”.

“My name is over there,” she said. “I don’t want the incredible healthcare workers and public health team working day and night in the background to be touched by the frustration and hatred that is out there. In some ways, it’s my job to protect them from that.

Meyer, the public health professor, said the attacks on Zink align with one of the key strategies of the anti-vaccine movement, which is to undermine science, scientific evidence and scientific institutions.

“And so you’ll see them attack anyone who uses science to inform public health recommendations or public health policy,” Meyer said. Zink, she added, “just lays out the recommendations that the CDC comes up with, so she’s recommended masking, she’s recommended vaccines, she’s consistently recommending things that the scientific consensus supports.”

Meyer also noted that while some people may be frustrated that Dunleavy hasn’t imposed statewide mandates to deal with the recent coronavirus outbreak caused by omicron, he’s also resisted pressure. importance of conservatives to undermine public health strategies.

It was even as other GOP lawmakers pushed for legislation to ban policies like vaccine requirements and mask mandates.

“He doesn’t fall into that trap,” Meyer said.

This story was originally published by the Anchorage Daily News and is republished here with permission.