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A quarter of Americans distrust CDC recommendations, survey finds

About one-quarter of Americans say they trust the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's health recommendations "not very much" or "not at all," according to a new survey co-authored by the agency's researchers, four times worse than for doctors and nurses.

Of those surveyed, 37% said they have a "great deal" of trust in the CDC's health recommendations, and an additional 37% "somewhat" trust the agency. 16% have "not very much" trust in the CDC's recommendations, and 10% trust them "not at all."

The findings, published this week in the journal Health Affairs, are from a survey conducted in February 2022 examining the nation's trust in public health agencies in the wake of COVID-19.

Asked how much they trusted "recommendations made to improve health in general" from various sources, doctors scored the highest, with 54% saying they trust doctors' recommendations "a great deal," and 39% saying they "somewhat" trust them.

State and local elected officials scored worst on the survey, with only about one in 10 Americans saying they trusted their health recommendations "a great deal," and about a third saying they trusted them "somewhat."

The CDC garnered slightly higher trust than their counterparts in state and local public health departments. Reported trust also climbed when the survey asked more narrowly about providing information about the COVID-19 outbreak.

42% of Americans said they trusted the CDC "a great deal" to provide accurate COVID-19 information and an additional 29% said they "somewhat" trusted the agency. Only around a third of Americans have "a great deal" of trust in COVID-19 information from their state and local health departments.

The survey is not the first to find most Americans stating they have at least some trust in the CDC's recommendations.

A Morning Consult poll commissioned by the de Beaumont Foundation last year found one-third of Americans saying they trusted public health information and news from the CDC either "not much" or "not at all." 

In 2021, a similar survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that around 20% of Americans surveyed said they trusted the CDC's health recommendations "not very much" or "not at all." 

Compared to those 2021 findings, the results from the CDC poll mark a significant drop in trust in the CDC's recommendations. Back in 2021, 52% of respondents told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that they trusted the CDC a "great deal" or "quite a lot."

"[M]ost U.S. adults maintain at least some trust in public health agencies far into the COVID-19 pandemic. This may leave room for agencies to gain trust among those who are somewhat or not very trusting, particularly by working with more trusted partners," the study's authors wrote in Health Affairs. 

Among Americans who said they lacked trust in the CDC's information about COVID-19, the Health Affairs survey found that concerns over political influence and conflicting recommendations were cited by more than 70% of those who distrusted the agency. 

Those were also the top reasons for lower trust in state and local public health departments about their COVID-19 information.

The new survey results come as the CDC has been in the midst of a sweeping set of reforms ordered by its director.

"Obviously, much of some of the challenges this administration inherited. They've been longstanding challenges at the CDC, and we've taken this opportunity to learn from the challenges of the current COVID 19 pandemic," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing last month. 

"That includes sharing our scientific data faster, enhancing our laboratory quality, translating that science into clear, concise communications," she added.

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