The headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. On Wednesday, the CDC recommended people 12 years and older to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Ron Harris / AP hide caption
Ron Harris / AP
Ron Harris / AP
“I don’t trust them – I don’t,” says Sandra Wallace. She is 60 and owns a construction company in Arizona. For them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines were inconsistent.
“It’s all across the board,” she says. “You say one thing in a minute and then turn around and say another thing in the next minute.”
Wallace was one of the interviewees in one Poll published on Thursday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. The survey of 1,305 people was carried out from mid-February to mid-March this year. The foundation funds the coverage of health and health care on NPR.
Overall, the poll found that only 52% of Americans have great faith in CDC. Other health authorities were even lower – only 37% of Americans said they had a lot of trust in the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration.
“We are at a time of distrust of government in general,” notes Robert Blendon, Harvard Chan School professor emeritus who oversaw the survey. “If we were to replace the CDC with the FBI, it wouldn’t be much better.”
The survey found that trust isn’t just an issue for federal health officials. State health departments trust 41% of Americans, and local health departments fared only marginally better at 44%.
Public health confidence during a pandemic is incredibly high stakes. Public health measures – such as wearing masks and business restrictions – cannot work as intended to contain a pandemic if the community does not believe they are based on reliable information.
If this trust is not there, people will not agree to “change their lives, take preventive action.” [measures], take vaccines, “says Blendon.
One person who is frustrated with all of this is Maine Senator Susan Collins.
“I used to have the greatest respect for the instructions of the CDC,” she told CDC director Rochelle Walensky Congressional hearing this week. “I’ve always viewed the CDC as the gold standard. I don’t remember.” Collins cited problems with the CDC’s guidelines too Reopening of the school, Wearing masks and Summer camp.
Walensky aggressively defended her agency and leadership point by point. For example, under the guidance of the summer camp, Walensky described her 16-year-old son who was counting down the days for camp that year until she told him he couldn’t go. “I want our children to be back in the camp,” she said. “The camp guide is supposed to take our children to the camp and allow them to stay there.”
Walensky was appointed by Democratic President Biden and Collins is a Republican. The political divide that marked the coronavirus pandemic was evident in the results of this survey – 27% of Republicans trust the CDC very much, compared with 76% of Democrats.
This survey does not address the reasons why respondents do not trust public health authorities or what could be done to regain their trust. However, according to Blendon, this is vital for health officials to find out – both as a means to navigate the country through the end of this pandemic and to prepare for the next.