06 Apr RAND Study Finds Public Trust in CDC Fell During Pandemic
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Michael S. Pollard Ph.D
Senior Sociologist; Professor
Pardee RAND Graduate School
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has traditionally been a highly trusted source of public health information, and conveying information to the public about the vaccine and broader pandemic response is critical. This study examines changes in levels of public trust in the CDC between May and October, 2020, in light of the numerous challenges the CDC initially faced during the COVID-19 pandemic: technical problems with their COVID-19 testing kits, mixed messaging about the pandemic and mitigation strategies, and public commentary and interference by people in the Trump administration, for example.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: We surveyed over 2,000 people in the nationally representative RAND American Life Panel in May, and followed up with those same people again in October. We found that trust in the CDC fell significantly at the national level. Of particular note: trust by non-Hispanic white and Hispanic respondents fell to the same lower level of trust that black respondents already had – which was already a significant concern for the vaccine distribution itself. We also saw that views of the CDC are now strongly politicized. Trust in the CDC fell even further for those who planned to vote for anyone other than Biden in the 2020 election, or not vote at all. Trust also declined across all ages and in both rural and urban areas. At the same time, trust in other federal institutions such as the United States Postal Service actually went up among the survey respondents (including across all voter types), despite facing their own political or other challenges.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: There was a remarkable convergence across all these groups in their reported levels of trust in the CDC, which poses a significant challenge to informing the public and generating broad public support for vaccination and other pandemic mitigation strategies such as continued mask use, as well as guidelines for reopening businesses and schools. With trust in the CDC generally low across the board, not just among groups that previously had mistrust, the CDC may not currently be the best messenger. A key challenge will be to tailor both the message and the messenger. People may be more likely to trust information and advice from their personal doctors or health care providers than the CDC, Dr. Fauci, or other government sources. Doctors and nurses should be important spokespersons for public health messages related to the pandemic, both to their own patients and to the public more broadly. In the longer term, the CDC will need to focus on rebuilding the public trust. Aspects to focus on include improving transparency in decision-making and rationale for guidelines, emphasizing the expertise and competence of the CDC, and depoliticizing the CDC.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Again, it is essential to identify the best messages as well as the best messengers. There has already been substantial research on public health communication that should be brought to bear here on how to craft effective messages. Messaging during previous epidemics, such as SARS, can be used to identify lessons learned that would be helpful today. Studies of vaccine hesitancy among Black communities have highlighted that known and trusted community members and organizations will be essential for disseminating information and addressing concerns. It will be important to identify similarly trusted sources of information beyond doctors and health care providers for the broader public. It will also be important to continue assessing the public’s trust in the CDC over time in light of all of these issues.
“Decline in Trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is available at :
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