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May 14, 2021 -- A new survey shows only 54% of respondents have a great deal of trust in the CDC, the agency that led the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and even fewer have that level of trust in the FDA or the National Institutes of Health.

Survey findings come from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They surveyed about 1,300 people in February and March of 2021 regarding how much they trust different parts of the American healthcare system.

“How the public sees public health is incredibly important,” said Robert Blendon, MD, co-director of the survey and a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, according to USA Today.

“When it comes to trust with health information, which is the heart of what public health is about, they’re much more likely to trust clinical physicians and nurses than public health institutions and agencies.”

The survey didn’t ask respondents why they felt the way they did. Some of the key findings were:

  • 54% of respondents gave the CDC a positive rating in 2021, down from 59% in 2009
  • The FDA (48%) and the National Institutes of Health (47%) had lower positive ratings than the CDC
  • 71% trusted nurses a great deal or quite a lot, with 70% feeling that way about healthcare workers they know and 67% about doctors
  • 34% gave the public health system a positive rating in 2021, down from 43% in 2009
  • 51% gave positive ratings to “the medical system” in 2020, up from 36% in 2009
  • 53% said local health departments are doing a good or excellent job, compared to 49% who said that about their state health departments
  • 59% said Covid-19 is the nation’s biggest health problem, followed by cancer (19%), obesity (19%), health care access (15%), and mental illness (10%)
  • 71% of respondents favor substantially increasing federal spending on improving the nation’s public health programs, while 27% are opposed

The survey found a difference of opinion apparently based on political affiliation. About 78% of Democrats said they had a lot of trust in the CDC, compared to 27% of Republicans.

“We have not had another pandemic that has been politicized by party…Nobody had a Republican or Democratic view on polio vaccine. It just didn’t exist,” Blendon said. “The minute that happens, people of the party determine what’s going on based on their political views regardless of the facts.”

In a statement, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said the pandemic “has laid bare the cracks and inequities baked into all of the systems that impact health in the United States.”

“As the country prepares to emerge from the pandemic, substantial public health funding is necessary to ensure we are prepared for the next emergency. In order for leaders to move forward in shaping the future of the U.S. public health system, the public’s lack of trust must be addressed. The field must also use this moment to address the structural discrimination within the system and ensure that all of our communities are protected.”

Show Sources

Survey: “The Public’s Perspective on the United States Public Health System.”

USA Today: “Many Americans don't trust their public health system during COVID-19 pandemic, survey shows?

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “The Public's Perspective on the United States Public Health System.”

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