By Adrianna Rodriguez
The U.S. public health system was thrust into the limelight by the coronavirus pandemic, and a survey published Thursday found many Americans aren’t happy with its performance.
According to the survey, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in February and March, ratings of the nation’s public health system declined from 43% in 2009 to 34% in 2021.
Positive ratings for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fell overall, from 59% in 2009 to 54% in 2021. Health experts say distrust and the politicization of public health measures contributed to Americans’ negative view of health institutions.
“How the public sees public health is incredibly important,” said Dr. Robert Blendon, co-director of the survey and professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “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.”
Fewer than 4 in 10 adults report having “a great deal” or “quite a lot of trust” in the National Institutes of Health (37%), the Food and Drug Administration (37%) and the Department of Health and Human Services (33%).
Health experts say the politicization of public health measures such as masking, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders also has influenced public opinion.
“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.”