Yes, You Can Still Trust in the CDC.

Yes, You Can Still Trust in the CDC.
Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Over the past year, a phenomenon has reemerged: The politicization of public health. For many, masks and vaccines have become a symbol of political loyalty, and some have even questioned the existence of COVID-19 itself.

This summer, the Delta variant began crashing through Texas, driving new cases and hospitalizations at a breakneck pace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance to encourage vaccinated people to again don masks in public. Meanwhile, certain politicians have sown uncertainty in public health institutions, but doctors are beseeching Texans to trust in the latest guidance.

Last week, The Washington Post reported the CDC has learned that vaccinated people may also spread the Delta variant, which is about as transmissible as chickenpox. Two days later, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz accused the CDC of having destroyed its own credibility.

“A year and a half ago, the CDC was one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world,” the Republican said in a tweet. “Now, their credibility is in tatters because they behave more like an arm of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] than a serious scientific organization.”
The CDC is run by scientists who have trained their entire adult life to advise us in this moment, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Those who are unsure what to believe should remember the CDC has been “remarkably consistent” in recommending vaccinations, plus encouraging social distancing and mask-wearing for the unvaccinated.

Yet as the virus mutates, the institution must update its safety guidance to address the latest variants, Jenkins said. It’s similar to how war generals have to adjust their tactics when new enemy weapons are introduced on the battlefield, he added.

“It’s not because the CDC changed their mind; it’s because the virus mutated,” Jenkins said. “Why did that happen? Because not enough of us got vaccinated and not enough of us were willing to make those small sacrifices to beat COVID.”

As of Thursday, roughly 53% of Texans 12 and older were fully vaccinated, according to the state’s health department — far short of the percentage needed to reach herd immunity.

These days, the Delta variant is a kind of “three-headed monster,” said Dr. Rodney E. Rohde, a professor and chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University. It’s twice as infectious, stays longer in the body and has a higher titer, meaning the concentration of virus found in the body.

The public needs to continue listening to public health officials and following the science as it evolves, said Rohde, who’s also an associate adjunct professor at Austin Community College. He said he cringes every time public health recommendations must be updated, but experts can’t ignore the issue when lives are on the line.

“[COVID-19] doesn’t really care that we’re tired." – Dr. Rodney E. Rohde

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Everyone is tired of wearing masks, but it’s important to try to avoid pandemic fatigue, particularly as the state enters another surge ahead of the school year, Rohde said. The golden rule of health care is to do no harm, but it’s also one that everyday Texans can follow.

“We just have to find a way to be resilient and be adaptable because the virus is adaptable,” Rohde said. “It doesn’t really care that we’re tired. It doesn’t care where we live, what color we are, or how old we are or what political status we lean to. It’s going to infect the unimmunized.”

Last month, the CDC’s director dubbed the coronavirus the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Yet there’s also a pandemic of misinformation that’s driving the disease, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The public health world has been grappling with how to combat the spread of misinformation online, Carlson said; now, their biggest focus is on conveying credible information that the public will actually believe. Communicating such guidance is challenging, though, as people are quick to trust in content shared by friends.

Recent polling supports the claim that Americans’ faith in the CDC has eroded. In May, NPR reported that just 52% say they have a “great deal of trust” in the institution. At the same time, trust in the federal government has also nosedived in recent years.

Still, Carlson said the CDC’s response overall can be viewed as a success. Rohde agrees: Under the most recent two presidential administrations, the CDC has worked swiftly to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the American public.

Public health experts simply had no precedence for how politicized science would become — "on either side of the aisle," Carlson added. Regardless of their political leanings, she argued, Texans should strive to base their health decisions on facts because doubt in public health guidance can ultimately cost lives. “Let’s make sure our opinions about science are based in science,” she said.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter