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Letters From the Committee :: December 8, 2005

Letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Concerning Lack of Social and Behavioral Aspects in Pandemic Preparedness Plan

Science Committee letterhead

December 8, 2005

The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Mr. Secretary:

My staff and I have carefully reviewed the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and the HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan.  While we commend this Administration for a well-thought out agenda to finally move the biological aspects of pandemic preparedness forward in a rapid fashion (vaccine development, antivirals, and surveillance), the plan does not substantively address important social science issues involving the behavior and cooperation of the American people in preparedness for and response to this type of disaster. Specifically, I was most concerned by the incompleteness of the plan in the areas of risk communications, social distancing, and analysis of collective behavior in times of crisis.

Experts agree that should a highly lethal form of human influenza, such as H5N1, present itself in the next several years, vaccines and antivirals will fall short.  Social distancing, effective communication, and other public health measures will be our only realistic line of defense.  This is the realm of social scientists.  Yet, neither the National Strategy nor the HHS plan makes effective use of current human behavioral and social science research....

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