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Quickly Noted: 5 "Myths" about Pandemic Panic

March 16, 2009

44524746_6447b35298 The Washington Post published a story the other day about pandemic influenza, and how much we were over-selling it; I read it as, “stop yelling fire in the theater,” whilst looking at smoldering oily rags. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Revere, posting at The Pump Handle, took umbrage and replied in a pretty thorough manner by deconstructing each of the 5 “myths” as straw man arguments. My favorite passage follows:

Alcabes’s implicit premise, however, is the one that I find most troubling. It is that public health is being distorted by overblown fears of a pandemic and that people are being induced to behave irrationally out of panic. The fact that publishers try to sell newspapers with scary headlines doesn’t mean that the public is in a panic about a pandemic. Indeed a persistent problem is that they tune out. We are inundated with frightening headlines, including those that say that fear and dread are more harmful than preparing for an influenza pandemic. This is not that far from the stance of many health departments that they shouldn’t inform the public of environmental hazards because it will induce panic.

The fact that we have prepared badly and in the wrong way is not because people are paralyzed by fear but because the only way the Bush administration would allow anyone to prepare is through ways that enriched their patrons while not empowering public health. That’s an entirely different issue. Now that we have an administration more attuned to investing in the Common Purpose, we should be pushing for stronger public health, not vitiating such preparations by claims it is based on fear mongering.

Now, you guys know that I do my best to stay away from the political side of things, but between you and me, I have the same hopes as Revere. Hopefully we’ll move beyond the “let’s dump money on HHS for pandemic planning while letting the locals and states wither from lack of funding and direction” strategic plan with the new administration and Congress. That said, I’m not stoked by the way things have been handled in the last couple of months with regards to public health funding (*cough* ARRA, omnibus, zeroed out *cough*), but I have hopes that the next few years will be better than the last few. Time will tell, I guess.

Image credit: EAWB

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