How should we distribute initially limited supplies of vaccines in the event of an influenza pandemic?

November 25, 2019

Every year there is a seasonal influenza outbreak. However, every few decades there is a much more devastating influenza pandemic. It is possible to develop a vaccine to protect against pandemic influenza, but the nature of vaccine production means that not enough will be available immediately to protect all of the Australian population.

Australian Government policy is to vaccinate all Australians against pandemic influenza. Pandemic vaccine will be released in batches over a period of several months until everyone who wants to be, is vaccinated. However, as a consequence, prioritising certain groups for vaccine access must be part of Australian vaccination policy.

Complex decisions will need to be made about how to balance potential risks and likely benefits of different vaccine distribution strategies. Decision making is complicated in this area because pandemic influenza viruses can have different levels of transmissibility and severity, which determines how quickly a pandemic spreads and how many people are likely to become hospitalised or die. In addition, because the vaccine is new, there is likely to be uncertainty about how effective and safe it may be.

Researchers wanted to understand and describe what informed members of the public think is the best way to distribute limited vaccination resources during an influenza pandemic. They used a “citizens’ juries” process to involve citizens in developing a thoughtful, well-informed solution to a public problem or issue.

Citizens’ Juries

Citizens’ juries are a lot like juries in a court room. They are made up of about a dozen people, who meet over two days. They hear expert testimony and then deliberate to make a decision about what they think is the right thing to do. On the final day of their moderated hearings, the members of the Citizens’ Jury vote on the issues and give their recommendations.

The Australian Government Department of Health recently commissioned APPRISE to trial the citizens’ juries process, an innovative method for involving the community in public policy development.

The evidence presented to the juries

The citizens answered specific questions after viewing four online talks explaining the evidence:

Link here to the project description and to view the questions and talks presented to the citizen’s juries.

The citizens’ juries were led and coordinated by Dr Chris Degeling from The Australian Centre for Health Engagement, Evidence and Values – an independent research centre of the University Wollongong associated within the School for Health and Society at the Faculty of Social Science.

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