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White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Explains Why Some Americans Don’t Trust The Science

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, recently spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival and explained why Americans continue to grow less trusting of medical advice from experts. One of the biggest reasons cited is due to a lack of representation in the scientific/medical field. 

“If you look at the experience of the way the public health system has treated, let’s say, African Americans in America, there’s a lot of basis for mistrust. It is not a glorious history.”

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According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 29% of US adults say they believe medical scientists are acting in the best interest of the public: that percentage is down from 40% in late 2020. 

Jha said that for many people of color, that mistrust can be rooted back to not seeing enough representation or diversity in the medical field in general, especially when it comes to positions of power in the public health system. 

“We have to do a much better job at diversifying our scientific workforce. It will make science better. It’ll make the communication better. The proportion of Black men in medical school is the same today as it was 40 years ago.” 

According to a 2015 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only 1,337 Black men applied to US medical schools in 2014, compared to 1,410 Black men in 1978. Less than 6% of all physicians in America are Black, according to a 2018 study by UCLA. 

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Diversity in medicine has been luckily on the rise recently; January data from the AAMC shows that there were roughly 20% more Black male first-year medical students in the US in 2021 when compared to 2020. However, the report also cited an 8.5% decrease in American Indian and Alaska Native first-year students. 

Jha noted that “diverse doctors and healthcare workers could help get more people of color on board with vaccinations. The words of trusted community members often carry more weight than government officials, even publicly elected ones.”

“Here are communities that have been served badly, where the health system has treated them badly, and then someone shows up and says, ‘You want a vaccine?’ and you’re surprised that people are not immediately jumping for it?”

“You saw incredible vaccine uptick rates in lots of communities of color, but, when you work with those right partners. It was proof of this principle that if you get the right partners, you do this humbly, you do this in an effective way, it really moves the needle,” said Jha.