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Government has been poor at managing expectations

Doug Tygar, professor, computer science and School of Information | October 27, 2009

While any rapid response to an emerging pandemic is inherently prone to uncertainty, it would appear that the US government has been exceptionally poor at managing public reaction to the 2009 H1N1 virus.  On the one hand, we are told vaccination is essential — as we should be vaccinated as quickly as possible.  On the other hand, vaccine production was wildly overestimated, and vaccinations even for most of those in the highest risk groups has been impossible.  These twin conflicting messages can only increase public anxiety.

The sudden combination of declaring a “national health emergency” while the media presents stories such as “U.S. May End up Discarding Unused H1N1 Vaccine” sends a confusing message to the public.  Given the contradictory and inaccurate messages from official sources , it is little wonder that so much wild misinformation is circulating around the topic.

In the end, we were very fortunate that this H1N1 pandemic was not more serious.  Had it been more serious, the poorly coordinated government response and conflicting messages could have caused a public panic that itself could have been as threatening as the disease.

I think at the minimum the public has the right to expect a clear, coordinated, and as accurate-as-possible message from the government — especially for an event that merits the title “national emergency. “