For much of our history, Americans understood safeguarding public health to be an essential responsibility of government, like providing for the national defense. But unlike waging wars, public health has always been handled primarily at the local and state levels where it could directly engage with and draw support from the populace.

During World War II, one-quarter of the nation’s population were members of the Red Cross, most of whom received some basic first-aid training at the 4,000 chapters that operated around the country. In 1947, when there was an outbreak of smallpox in New York City, the city’s Health Department officials jumped into action. In a civic response that involved private physicians, pharmacists and volunteer workers in factories, union halls and police precincts, more than 5 million New Yorkers were vaccinated for small pox in just two weeks.

It is nearly inconceivable that that kind of mobilization effort could be mustered today. And after the 1947 outbreak was brought under control, New York City’s health commissioner singled out the media for thanks “for giving so generously of their space and time to bring necessary information to the public.” What are the chances of that happening in 2014? […]

To read the full article, published by Politico Magazine, click here.