CDC to seek public's advice on H1N1 vaccination drive

Jul 31, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to gather the public's thoughts in August on how big this fall's H1N1 influenza vaccination drive should be.

The CDC will hold 10 "public engagement" meetings around the country to get the citizenry's advice on whether the vaccination program should be an all-out effort or something more modest, according to Roger Bernier, PhD, MPH, senior advisor in the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The agency wants to take the public pulse on the issue because there's so much uncertainty about the scale and of the severity of the pandemic and the demand for the vaccine this fall and winter, Bernier said.

"We're at some danger of either overreacting or underreacting, and that depends on how fully prepared we want to be and how we invest to be fully prepared," he said. "We're trying to learn how they [the public] value preparation in this case, and how they balance that against possible safety concerns and other issues that arise."

The CDC has scheduled a meeting in one city in each of the 10 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regions, he reported. The all-day meetings will be held on Saturdays. Dates and locations are as follows:

  • Aug 8: Denver, Colo., and Lincoln, Neb.
  • Aug 15: Birmingham, Ala., Sacramento, Calif., and Vincennes, Ind.
  • Aug 22: El Paso, Tex., Bucks County (near Philadelphia), Pa., and New York City
  • Aug 29: Somerville, Mass., and Spokane, Wash.

Participants for the meetings are being recruited through local health departments, civic organizations, and other means, Bernier said. The aim is to draw a group that reflects the local population in terms of age, race, and sex. "We're not looking at people's attitudes or beliefs coming in," he said.

The participants will hear a presentation of basic information they'll need to have an informed discussion and then will break into small groups to discuss the issues, he reported.

"The question we're putting on the table has to do with what should be the implementation strategy the US should adopt for pandemic flu," he said. "Are we talking about a full-throttle or a go-slow approach, or an approach somewhere in between?"

He said a full-throttle approach would probably involve a large number and variety of vaccination sites, such as public clinics, physicians' offices, and schools, whereas a go-slow approach would be more like a seasonal flu vaccination program. An all-out effort would likely include a major communication campaign to stoke demand for the vaccine, but communication steps in a smaller campaign would aim to simply meet existing demand, he said.

The CDC has conducted similar public engagement programs several times before, according to Bernier. Topics that were addressed in recent efforts included vaccine prioritization in a severe flu pandemic and community control measures, such as school closings and event cancellations, in a pandemic. The agency also recently sought the public's opinions on an overall national vaccine plan that's being developed.

Bernier said decision-makers have found the public's responses useful. Officials don't always agree with what they hear from people, "but our promise to the public is that we'll give serious consideration to the results of the meeting," he said.

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