Vaccine hesitancy—the delay by people to get inoculated even when shots are widely available—appears likely to be one more hurdle in ending the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC would typically lead a campaign to overcome such hesitancy, but shortcomings at the agency during 2020 have left it compromised as a public health messenger.

For generations, the CDC was the world's “gold standard” in public health protection and promotion. But its technical problems in developing testing kits, mixed messaging about the pandemic and mitigation strategies, as well as extensive public commentary, all undermined its level of trust among the American public.

We see this in survey data. As part of nationally representative RAND American Life Panel (ALP) surveys fielded last May and October, we found that trust in the CDC has declined measurably across the board. Specifically, trust in the CDC by non-Hispanic white and Hispanic respondents fell to the same lower level of trust that Black Americans already had. A November-December 2020 RAND survey of Black Americans found that more than a third indicated they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Among respondents who intended to vote for someone other than Biden in the 2020 presidential election—or who did not intend to vote at all—trust fell even further, suggesting that views about the CDC are now strongly politicized. Other embattled federal agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service, did not show a similar decline in public trust—by partisanship or otherwise.

This declining trust is a major problem for the Biden administration. Unlike in the past, the CDC may not be the best messenger for promoting COVID-19 vaccination and overcoming vaccine hesitancy. A recent Kaiser survey found that although 70% of Americans are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, those in rural areas, Black Americans, and Republicans were less likely to do so. Among respondents who indicated they would definitely not get the vaccine, only about a quarter said the CDC, the FDA, Anthony Fauci, or their local health department were reliable sources of information.

Given the need to deal with vaccine hesitancy imminently, the CDC and the Biden administration could funnel guidance through doctors and other health care providers and help them reach their local patients with the message that getting the vaccine is crucial. That also means that the sooner vaccines are made available to local doctors and clinics to administer it, the better. The CDC and Biden administration might also consider public safety announcements (PSAs) that feature doctors and other health care providers.

Read the full article about combatting vaccine hesitancy by  Lois Davis at RAND Corporation.