Mississippi Public Health Association board member, Jackson State University professor tackles vaccine hesitancy, tobacco use

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Since being elected unanimously to the board of directors for the Mississippi Public Health Association (MPHA) earlier this year, JSU professor Dr. Nelson Atehortua has worked “intensively” to promote COVID-19 vaccinations and discourage the use of tobacco.

Dr. Nelson Atehortua

Atehortua, a faculty member in the College of Health Sciences, is also director for the Americas for the JSU School of Public Health Global Health Initiative. As it relates to COVID-19, he said hesitancy is one of the “biggest barriers” to the vaccine. Although greater efforts are underway to encourage more people to get inoculated, he bemoans that many public health initiatives have become “victims of politicization.”

For example, he highlighted the failure by the state to expand Medicaid – a decision he said that affects individuals and the economy. Atehortua also explained that Mississippi dismally ranks high among states in the top 10 causes of deaths in the U.S. These include heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

Notably, he said, seven of the top 10 causes of deaths are associated with smoking, which is why he’s involved in cessation efforts. In fact, MPHA has tried to persuade the Mississippi Legislature to impose a higher tobacco tax but with no success.

Despite some roadblocks, Atehortua and MPHA continue to press forward for a healthier Mississippi as he tries to raise the visibility of the state’s urban HBCU.

“It’s such a great deal to be the first member of Jackson State University on the board of directors. I’m honored to be an ambassador for JSU and the School of Public Health,” he said.