GSL Publishes Article on CMOHs role during COVID-19 in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

Under the spotlight: understanding the role of the Chief Medical Officer in a pandemic

On August 19, GSL Investigators Margaret MacAulay, Adèle Cassola, Steven Hoffman, Patrick Fafard, as well as GSL Research Fellows Caroline Woodward, Michèle Palkovits and other collaborators published an essay on how increased visibility during COVID-19 has shaped the role of chief medical officers (CMOs) in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK.

The authors found that the role remains deeply contested where some argue that the CMO ought to assume the role of public health advocate or independent voice and others believe that the CMO should exercise strong decision-making or regulatory power within the government.

These tensions have become more accentuated and more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. CMOs have become central actors in a long-haul, global crisis of a greater scale, scope and duration than what their predecessors have encountered.

In some jurisdictions, the use of existing public health statutes, emergency management laws, and, in some cases, special purpose legislation affects the CMO’s powers and responsibilities.

The length and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic have also stretched the CMO’s spokesperson role. CMOs are regularly featured across print, broadcast and social media for well over a year—far beyond what the architects of the role could have anticipated in a pre-social media era.

This can cause audiences to question the CMO’s non-partisan nature; create confusion regarding their positions as advisors compared with decision-makers; and, at the extreme, fuel distrust when media pundits and citizens repeatedly criticize the CMO and challenge their expertise. On the other hand, where CMOs fail to signal clear support for policy decisions, media sources may interpret this as evidence that these high-profile advisors are ‘at odds’ with the governments they serve.

Read the full article here.


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