I served on the board of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation for nearly a decade. Our job was to raise private funds for issues, such as anti-smoking campaigns, that the CDC was unable to address directly due to legislative constraints. Though I no longer serve on the board, I have the deepest reverence for the public health experts who are the world’s best disease detectives.
The image of the CDC is severely compromised by the reversals of recommendations, the confusing messaging and the intrusion of political appointees into the process. The same goes for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Only a significant change in the present framework will allow a recovery of trust in these all-important institutions.
I had a discussion with Dr. David Nabarro, World Health Organization Special Envoy for Covid-19, this morning. He said, “It is urgent that we protect these crown jewels of America. These agencies set the standard for other national regulators. There is a need for oversight, but it must be disconnected from politics. There is a scientific job to do.”
The only way to rebuild trust is to have a substantive change in governance. We have a hundred-year precedent that can be applied. The Federal Reserve Bank does its job free of interference from either Congress or the President. That same license to operate must be granted to health agencies.
We have important health issues to resolve in the coming months. According to our Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Workplace Trust and the Coronavirus, which was launched in early September, under 50 percent of people are now willing to have a Covid vaccine. Fifty percent of respondents do not feel that their offices are safe for return. Under ten percent believe that they should take mass transit, whether bus, subway or train. We have politicized mask-wearing, and we are now overlooking basic measures such as handwashing.
The private sector showed its strength when large pharmaceutical companies joined together to say that no vaccine would be released to the public until there were thorough clinical trials and proven results. Now the private sector must establish a coalition of the willing to insist on the separation of church and state.
Richard Edelman is CEO.