Harassment of Health Officials: A Significant Threat to the Public's Health

Michael R. Fraser, PhD, MS


Am J Public Health. 2022;112(5):728-730. 

In This Article

Toward Solutions

Quantifying pandemic-related violence against health officials is an important part of chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. But beyond merely telling the story of how bad it has been for public health leaders are the authors' suggested solutions. Some of these are tasks that ASTHO and its partners can commit to today, such as training leaders in how to address moral injury and how to respond to political conflict more effectively. Other recommendations are longer term but equally important and include mitigating the partisan rhetoric and political pressures that have led some members of the public to intimidate, vilify, or denigrate public health work. These efforts cannot begin soon enough: in November 2022, we will have 36 state and four territorial gubernatorial elections and perhaps as many transitions in state and territorial health officers shortly thereafter.

The harassment of health officials should be far more than a footnote in future chronicles of our COVID-19 response: it is an alarming symptom of a far more serious condition that has pushed some policymakers to undermine the authority of government health officials. Ward et al.'s recommendations to address harassment provide a path forward. We can manage the symptoms of this condition with training and peer support, but its treatment is a robust, high-functioning, and sustainable public health system from which we all benefit. Most important, and perhaps hardest of all, however, will be reminding all Americans about the importance of our collective good and that the benefit of avoiding future illness and death often means temporarily compromising individual desires to assure the health of many.