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Center News

Study Shows Public Concern Over Lack of Vaccines Predated Current Shortage

BALTIMORE, MD -- November 18, 2004 -- Even before the flu vaccine shortage, the American public had serious concerns about the nation's ability to provide vaccines in the aftermath of bioterrorist attacks, according to a new study published by the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

The Center, with Consensus Research Group, conducted an in-depth study in late September and early October 2004 to determine the U.S. public's perceptions of and attitudes toward bioterrorism. The research included four focus groups of registered voters and interviews with 20 opinion leaders and 800 members of the American public.

The study found that 64% of Americans surveyed are worried about whether the necessary drugs and vaccines would be available to respond in the event of a bioterrorist attack. A majority of Americans also believe the U.S. government should be responsible for researching and discovering new vaccines and medicines to protect them against viruses such as new strains of influenza, SARS, and West Nile Virus.

This study also revealed Americans' high level of concern about the country's current state of preparedness to deal with biological catastrophes. Thomas Inglesby, Deputy Director of the UPMC Biosecurity Center, observed that "the survey shows that bioterrorism and the lack of necessary tools to respond to bioattacks is very much top of mind for the American public. They want the government and the private sector to do more to protect them."

Among the study's findings:

  • 65% of Americans surveyed say that bioterrorism is an important issue to them.
  • 66% are worried about the government's ability to prevent a bioterrorist attack.
  • 70% are worried about the safety of the country's reservoirs and water supply.
  • 63% are worried about the ability of the government to communicate with the public after a bioterrorist attack.

Asked to comment on the study results, Congressman John P. Murtha, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee and the Representative from the 12th District of Pennsylvania, noted that the current flu vaccination crisis has spotlighted the issue of preparedness.

"Our nation cannot afford to outsource the production of its vital vaccines. We must create and nurture domestic manufacturers of existing as well as new vaccines to combat existing and emerging deadly threats. The federal government needs to take on a more active role in ensuring that the technology is developed and that manufacturing capabilities remain in the United States. The oversight role of the federal government is paramount in ensuring public safety. We urgently need more action and less talk on this issue," Murtha commented.

Murtha noted that he had expressed concerns about the threat of chemical and biological terrorism and the nation's abilities to handle such a crisis as early as 1990. He subsequently created the impetus for the formation and funding of the National Guard Civil Support Teams, whose role is to assist states in the event of a chemical or biological attack. He has recently become more involved when he learned that our nation's hospitals, which are on the front line of such a crisis, are woefully unprepared to respond to a deliberate crisis and equally ill prepared to respond aggressively to a large epidemic.

Inglesby noted, "Even before the current flu vaccine shortage, Americans wanted more information about what is being done to ensure they will be able to get vaccines and medicines in a crisis. If this survey were repeated now, I suspect we would find even deeper public concern on this issue."

Other findings include:

  • 72% believe it is very important for hospitals to conduct emergency drills to prepare for bioterrorism and other epidemic emergencies.
  • 65% of those surveyed are worried about the ability of medical personnel to handle a bioterrorist attack.
  • 59% believe the federal government should have created a bigger anthrax vaccine stockpile by now.

Despite the high level of public concern, those surveyed were also optimistic about the potential long-term benefits of new research and development to respond to bioweapons threats: 79% believe it is likely that developing medicines and vaccines to protect against bioterrorism attacks will lead to breakthrough discoveries to treat AIDS, tuberculosis, or cancer.

A summary of the survey results is available here.



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