"Scientific knowledge about the effectiveness of the vaccine after exposure to anthrax was uncertain at the time, making it an almost impossible task to communicate precise and proper health information to postal workers and other affected groups, including Senate staff," said Dr. Quinn. "Given the evolving nature of the crisis, postal workers were unsure whose advice they should trust and as a result, many decided to do without the recommended vaccination," she said.
In 2004, with the passage of legislation to establish Project Bioshield, the federal government created a mechanism for declaring public health emergencies. This authority also allows the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the use of experimental or "off label" drugs to address bioterrorism or public health emergencies. According to Dr. Quinn, communication about the use of these counter measures will present significant challenges for public health authorities in the future.
To address these challenges, she suggests public health experts openly acknowledge disagreements between health agencies, develop partnerships with trusted community agencies and work with media partners to address inaccuracies, misconceptions or other issues that may arise in news reports.
"We need to engage and educate the public before an emergency occurs to prevent unnecessary risk, disease and even death. Only by doing this can individuals make informed decisions about accepting or rejecting counter measures," she said.
|Contact: Clare Collins|
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences