The pandemic certainly affected many different aspects of life as we know it. One of the areas that it affected the most was the public’s trust in science, which many public health officials fear could get worse with the 2024 election looming.
Some presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle are approaching their campaigns by combining messages of distrust of big institutions with general skepticism over traditional vaccines. Their vitriol gets directed at the scientific establishment, pharmaceutical industry and the government as a whole.
Many people in politics are concerned that the spread of these stances is only going to accelerate in speed as the 2024 elections approach.
Dr. Jerome Adams, who served as the surgeon general in the Trump administration, said recently:
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Many of us in public health are deeply concerned that distrust in government and health entities, and a political campaign in which candidates are openly and vigorously arguing that people should ignore the advice of health experts, could have detrimental impacts for years to come – no matter who wins.”
Under former President Donald Trump, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and then delivered in a record amount of time. But, not long after those vaccines arrived for people to get, many conservative entities started to attack the vaccines, focusing on distrust of the government that started when lockdowns began and lingered.
That has had long-term effects on who is getting vaccines and who isn’t. For instance, Politico and Morning Consult conducted a poll recently that showed nearly 80% of Democrats planned to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall, compared to only about 40% of Republicans.
It’s not just the COVID vaccine that’s being affected, either. Diseases that have easily been stamped out by vaccines in the past – such as rubella, mumps and measles – are making a return every now and again.
Dr. Umair Shah, who serves as the secretary of health for Washington state, said he believes it could even take the death of a prominent figure from a disease that could be prevented by vaccines to “shock the public” and make vaccines more acceptable to them again.
“I’m really concerned, and a lot of people in public health and health care, are very concerned, that this is the beginning of a really rough and tough time. Unfortunately, people are going to get sick. We’re going to lose lives.”
For many years, people generally accepted vaccines – no matter what political beliefs they had. Not believing in vaccines used to find people on the fringe of society, not in the mainstream.
That has changed over the last few years. And what started as a conservative-only stance has made its way to some liberals, too, including Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Many in health believe the doubt from prominent politicians in particular are especially dangerous to society. Dr. Ashish Jha, who served as President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said:
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in this pandemic because of the bad information about vaccines and treatments. I certainly am worried about what happens over the next three to five years.”