Dr. Leana Wen, who was scheduled to talk about backlash and public health at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting this week in Boston, won’t be speaking. Dr. Wen has faced death threats for promoting vaccination against COVID-19, but she also took criticism leading up to the conference from some public health experts who accused her of downplaying the threat of COVID-19 in her public commentary. A petition circulated to get Dr. Wen uninvited from speaking, but the APHA supported her. Dr. Wen, research professor of health policy and management at George Washington University and former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore and president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement that the decision to step down was hers and was largely about safety.
“Formulating public health policy is complex and challenging, and requires an open exchange of views. I was looking forward to a robust discussion on the topic of backlash against public health officials. Unfortunately, there are some people who have made their wishes known that they oppose such crucial civil discourse,” she said. “Throughout the pandemic, I have had threats directed at me and my family. One person has pleaded guilty in federal court and will serve a prison sentence; another has been arrested by the FBI. I have been made aware that attending the APHA conference will put me at additional personal risk. Respectfully and regretfully, I must decline the invitation, and hope that there will be another occasion for me to support the important work of APHA.”