Boston, MA—In the first nationally representative survey of U.S. adults on reasons for trust in federal, state, and local public health agencies’ information during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was highly trusted for information by more than one-third of U.S. adults, whereas state and local health departments were highly trusted by about one-quarter. An additional 37-51% of adults trusted these public health agencies somewhat, and <10% reported no trust at all in these agencies for health information.

High levels of trust were not primarily due to people believing agencies had “done a good job” controlling the spread of COVID-19, but rather to public beliefs that agencies communicated clear, science-based recommendations and provided protective resources, such as tests and vaccines. The survey found that lower levels of trust were primarily related to beliefs that health recommendations were influenced by politics or corporations, or were conflicting.

“Trust in public health agencies is crucial for enabling effective policies that save lives during emergencies,” said lead author Gillian SteelFisher, principal research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management and director of global polling at the Harvard Opinion Research Program. “Emergency programs have been underfunded for decades, but these data make clear how important it is to ensure public health agencies have appropriate stockpiles, have authority to make decisions based on scientific information, and have a stronger communication infrastructure.”

The survey’s findings will be published March 6, 2023, in the March issue of Health Affairs, a themed issue focused on public health lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The survey was conducted in February 2022 among a nationally representative sample of 4,208 U.S. adults.