Task Force on Ethics and Pandemic Influenza Planning

The H1N1 influenza of 2009 heightened the public’s awareness of the dangers of a flu pandemic. Along with the public health threat, a flu pandemic presents ethical challenges as well. The Task Force on Ethics and Pandemic Influenza Planning was convened in 2006 to weigh different ethical considerations in developing an ethical framework to help guide public and private decision making during a pandemic including the need to ensure accountability, equitable treatment among similarly situated individuals, proportionality of actions, and inclusiveness and timeliness in decision making. The ethical framework developed by the Task Force is detailed in the report.
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Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH
State Health Director, Division of Public Health
NC Department of Health and Human Services
Rosemarie Tong, PhD
Director, Center for Professional and Applied Ethics
Professor, Department of Philosophy, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Task Force on Ethics and Pandemic Influenza Planning

In 2006, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health awarded funding to the North Carolina Institute of Medicine to examine the issues the state may face during an influenza pandemic and to consider the rights and responsibilities of private organizations and individuals. The Division of Public Health had already developed a pandemic influenza response plan. The response plan focuses on the emergency response functions and necessary partnerships to mount an effective response, but it does not directly address the ethical issues that will arise in the event of a flu pandemic. The Task Force explored several ethical issues including, but not limited to, the responsibilities of and to healthcare workers and other critical workers, the balance between the rights of individuals and protection of the public, and the prioritization and utilization of limited resources.

Recent human cases of the bird flu have heightened the public's awareness of the possibility of a flu pandemic in the near future. Many experts warn it is not a question of if but when the next flu pandemic will arrive. A severe pandemic influenza would most likely be widespread and last for six to eight weeks at a time. A pandemic could consist of one wave or multiple waves. During the height of an influenza pandemic, approximately 40% of workers will be out of the workforce due to their own illnesses or the need to care for a sick family member. This prediction is alarming, particularly as it impacts the healthcare industry, which may be overwhelmed by demands for services to treat the ill. Other critical industries, such as utilities, food, and transportation, also will require workers to provide the goods and services needed to maintain the basic functioning of society.

The Task Force was co-chaired by State Health Director Leah Devlin and UNC-Charlotte Ethics Professor Rosemarie Tong. North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom served as the Honorary Co-chair. The Task Force consisted of 38 members who represented stakeholders such as law enforcement, public health, healthcare providers, key industries, local and state government, and the faith community. Other Task Force members included ethicists and individuals representing potentially vulnerable populations.