Americans see hospitals as more trustworthy than FDA or CDC on COVID-19 vaccine information, poll finds

When it comes to getting information about a future COVID-19 vaccine, Americans see hospitals as more trustworthy sources than federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a new poll. 

The Harris Poll asked more than 2,000 adults in the last week of August about how trustworthy they believe different sources are when it comes to providing accurate information regarding the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Coming in tops: Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) said doctors and nurses were very or somewhat trustworthy sources of information. 

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They were immediately followed by nationally recognized health systems like Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic, as well as scientists, with 84% of Americans indicating they saw both as trustworthy. Local hospitals are seen as highly trusted on the COVID-19 vaccine with 82% of Americans saying they were very or somewhat trustworthy sources. 

Meanwhile, only 73% of Americans said they saw the CDC as somewhat or very trustworthy and 72% said they saw the FDA as highly trusted. That was just ahead of drug companies that work on vaccines in general, as well as those that are specifically working on COVID-19 vaccines (71%). 

Meanwhile, 61% of Americans said their employers, as well as health insurance companies, were very or somewhat trustworthy. 

"The organizations that Americans trust most are those who are in the trenches delivering, which is why you see doctors and nurses as number one," Rob Jekielek, managing director with The Harris Poll, told Fierce Healthcare. "Equally important, we see leading delivery institutions in terms of both nationally-recognized hospitals, as well as local hospitals, really being where people’s trust lays—not the people who are abstract in the science."

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That is important for all health communicators, including in healthcare but also politicians, members of the media, to understand as they work on messaging, he said.\

It's also valuable to understand how this plays out when it comes to differences in bias along political affiliations. For instance, there is an 11% gap between responses of how trustworthy individuals saw scientists, with 89% of those who identified as Democrats saying they were very or somewhat trustworthy sources of information about a vaccine compared to 78% of those who identified as Republican.

In another stark difference, 71% of those who identified as Republican said they saw information about a vaccine from the White House and President Donald Trump as very or somewhat trustworthy (compared to 28% of Democrats). That's higher than the 68% of Republicans who saw the FDA as very or somewhat trustworthy. Meanwhile, 77% of Democrats saw information about a vaccine from the FDA is very or somewhat trustworthy.

One place where Republicans and Democrats agreed: 70% of each indicated they saw their friends or family as very or somewhat trustworthy when it came to vaccine information. "That theme of relatability is also important when you think about hospital networks versus just scientists or the FDA," Jekliek said.

"Right now across research, people are looking for information they can trust," he said. "Even with family, even if they have a different opinion, they are willing to listen to it. Proximity and relatability are so important."