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How the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other US government officials convey information about medical countermeasures (MCMs) will affect uptake, compliance, and ultimately survival in the aftermath of a natural disease emergency or a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) attack. Moreover, effective communication regarding MCMs has the potential to strengthen psychological resilience as well as engender public trust in science, government, and public health.
In 2014-2016, the UPMC Center for Health Security undertook an in-depth project to provide evidence-informed advice to the FDA about communication issues inherent in the emergency use of MCMs. During that initiative, the Center engaged in research, analysis, and deliberation with an expert working group that included top scholars in risk and crisis communication and leading figures in the MCM enterprise. A major outcomes of the project was the “best practices” oriented text, How to Steward Medical Countermeasures and Public Trust in an Emergency: A Communication Casebook for FDA and Its Public Health Partners. The full casebook, along with its individual chapters, are available for download.
The purpose of the casebook was to provide FDA and other officials who deliver public health information with real world inspired opportunities for reflective learning on the principles of effective MCM emergency communication. The casebook critically examined communication dilemmas about MCMs in the context of the 2015-215 Ebola outbreak, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, the 2009-10 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, recommending specific action items for the FDA to help mitigate comparable issues in the future. The Ebola and anthrax cases underscored, for example, the need for sensitivity regarding historical conflicts between public health and minority communities, and the importance of taking steps – both before and during an emergency – to address any public anxiety around discrimination and human experimentation in the context of MCM clinical trials.