This I Know: Inoculation 

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic 

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

computer codes, a vaccine rocket ship, people of color surrounding a white vaccine vile, a megaphone


The infiltration of the internet into our lives has created a broad attack surface for nefarious actors seeking entryways into our most personal spaces. The interconnectivity that drives convenience and innovation also creates serious risk that requires a serious response.

During my time at the FBI, I engaged with stellar teams across the US government who were working tirelessly to monitor threats, understand attack vectors, identify and hold accountable bad actors, and deter future actions. That work is critical to addressing the most wicked and vexing cyber threats—but without ownership of prevention and resiliency at the individual and community level, our heroic cybercrime fighters will forever be plugging holes in a terminally leaky system.

I am fascinated by efforts designed to address this challenge as we would a public health crisis. Efforts that incentivize prevention and resiliency are the only true inoculation against the persistent impacts of cyber threats. While there are relatively simple solutions here—analogous to mask wearing—encouraging citizens to adopt key cyber prevention and resiliency measures remains an ongoing challenge for our time.

O’Connell is director of SPA’s terrorism and homeland security policy master’s program. 


If the speed of COVID-19 vaccines—less than 12 months from development to deployment—seems unprecedented, that’s because it is. The previous record was held by the measles vaccine, which took 10 years. This should not scare us—we should be proud and thankful.

I have been involved in the research, development, and regulation of new drug products for more than 15 years. As a therapeutics program manager with Operation Warp Speed, I was able to follow the tireless steps our team took to accelerate the development, manufacture, and distribution of vaccines. Amid impressive collaboration with industry and academia, the US government absorbed the major financial risk necessary to support multiple scientifically rigorous development programs in parallel. 

Volunteers and health care providers who participated in clinical trials also deserve our thanks. More than 100,000 subjects volunteered across multiple trials in record time. It was because of them—and the incidence of disease—that we had the data scientists needed to authorize the vaccines so quickly. I can’t wait to show my appreciation and pride and help #CombatCOVID by getting vaccinated.

Bugin is director for special programs at the Food and Drug Administration. 


Americans are facing multiple pandemics. One is a new disease ravaging our communities: COVID-19. The other is not quite so new but only recently were Americans willing to name it: white supremacy. One has a vaccine. The other will take some time to build immunity. And yet, these two diseases are inextricably linked.

The lack of health equity and abundance of unjust systems has allowed COVID-19 to disproportionately attack BIPOC communities. Health disparities, occupational hazards, poor living environments, and racism invite COVID to terrorize us. Can the promise of a vaccine reverse these impacts?

In my Multicultural Health class, we study how oppression rooted in the past manifests in the present. As such, injustice that creates medical bias and mistrust, lack of access to care, and perceived discrimination serves as a barrier for the vaccine to make its way to the BIPOC communities that deserve it. 

We must acknowledge that folks of color have been mistreated to afford them the treatments they are owed. Only then can we prioritize BIPOC communities in fighting both pandemics. 

Davis teaches in the health studies department and is a Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars faculty fellow.


Most people are familiar with inoculation as a method for protecting our bodies from viruses. However, there is another kind of inoculation—attitudinal inoculation—that can help protect vulnerable minds from becoming infected by terrorist ideologies. In the same way medical inoculation introduces a small amount of a weakened virus into the body to trigger an immune response, research has demonstrated that if we show audiences how terrorists try to persuade them, they develop “psychological antibodies” against that messaging. 

The effectiveness of attitudinal inoculation is in its ability to make message targets feel as though their beliefs and attitudes are threatened—a feeling that people generally don’t like. Once the specter of persuasive threat is raised, the inoculation message then presents the message target with a weakened version of the terrorist messaging that they might encounter. 

After being exposed to this kind of message, research shows that audiences feel anger towards the terrorist group that produced the message, counter-argue against the message, and lose faith in the group’s credibility. 

Braddock is a faculty fellow with AU’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Laboratory.