Commentary Emphasizes Need for Collective Responsibility in COVID-19 Response

September 20, 2021
Dr. Dabney Evans COVID-19 Research

Dabney P. Evans, PhD, MPH, is an author on a recent commentary published in EClinicalMedicine that examines moral issues affiliated with masking guidance and public health messaging in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the article, the authors question the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) May 28, 2021, decision to lift masking recommendations for vaccinated people. While this offered individual autonomy, the authors note that making the pandemic a matter of “personal responsibility” undermines the overarching aim of public health: focusing on the public, which “requires the support of institutions and communities.”

Even as loosened guidelines for vaccinated people tightened once again, the emphasis has remained on individual responsibility, which the authors note, has been detrimental to public health. “As public health professionals and advocates, we call for a renewed commitment to core public health principles of collective responsibility, health equity, and human rights,” they write.

The current public health messaging, with its emphasis on the individual, also has negative implications for disadvantaged populations and communities of color which have disproportionately experienced mortality and COVID-19-related complications due to public health inequities. “Our argument is as salient today as ever," says Evans. "As the virus continues to evolve and we engage in conversations about boosters, we must be mindful of the inequities in access to vaccines that are perpetuating the global pandemic. Until we do so, all of us will continue to face the consequences —some more so than others."   

Instead of promoting a personal approach to the pandemic, the authors suggest that the CDC and public health leaders should emphasize a collective responsibility to public health supported by: an emphasis on masking, enhanced workplace protections and sick leave, expanded support for unvaccinated communities, and “consistent messaging focused on collective responsibility.”