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SafeMinds on CDC Swine Flu Vaccine Meetings: Science Secondary to Policy Decisions

Posted Aug 13 2009 12:00am

Knowledge is power Managing Editor's Note: We invite you to visit our sponsor SafeMinds to learn more about H1N1 and the vaccination program. Theresa Wrangham, President of SafeMinds, attended the CDC H1N1 public meeting in Colorado. Here's her report. CDC is offering to pay $50 for attendance at these meetings. Some of the dates are already closed.

By Theresa Wrangham

CDC Sponsors Public Engagement on Swine Flu Vaccine, Science Deemed Secondary to Policy Decisions and Questions Remain

As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) holds the first round in a series of public engagement sessions designed to promote public discussion on how pandemic swine flu vaccine will be made available to the public, many questions remain unanswered in terms of the safety of the vaccine being developed.

Dr. Roger Bernier and Capt. Raymond Strikas were present at the Denver public engagement session held on August 8th, which I attended to get answers to questions that remain as a result of July meetings held by the FDA Vaccine and Related Biologic Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).  Imagine my amazement as Dr. Bernier opened the meeting by stating that we “can’t pick the right answer based on science and data.” and I was pleasantly surprised that I was not alone in my questions around safety.  It seemed as though roughly half of those attending had many of the same questions I did – it did not bode well for CDC.  However, as the meeting progressed it was clear that the public engagement session was not going to be centered on answers to our questions; rather attendees were being asked to make policy decisions based on incomplete assumptions furnished to them by the CDC.  The purpose of the endeavor as far as I could ascertain was to take the pulse of the public in determining the level of response the public felt was necessary in pursuing a vaccination program for the new swine flu vaccine under development.

What were the assumptions and scenarios in the discussion guide…in a nutshell the scenarios were “Go Easy”  which was defined by providing a few extra sites for vaccination for expected low public demand for swine flu vaccine and providing time to gather data on severity and safety/effectiveness of the new vaccine; “Moderate” to promote vaccination to target groups identified by the last ACIP meeting with a media/communication effort to promote uptake – given low demand, while acknowledging that safety/effectiveness of the vaccine would be unknown; and “Full Throttle” meaning that significant monies on all levels would be expended to create as many vaccination sites as possible no matter the severity of the virus with extensive communication efforts to stimulate uptake. 

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