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Ensuring Appropriate Public Use of Medical Countermeasures through Effective Emergency Communication

Background | Project Description | Project Outcomes | Accomplishments | Additional Reading

How to Steward Medical Countermeasure and Public Trust in An Emergency: A Communication Casebook for FDA and its Public Health Partners

Performer: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center - UPMC Center for Health Security

Project leader: Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD

Contract value: $495,145

Project dates: June 2014 - June 2016

View a summary of the project report


Even in normal circumstances, medical countermeasure-related communications can be complicated. Add an emergency, such as an influenza pandemic, and these communications—vaccine information, for example—quickly become crucial to protecting lives. That’s why it’s important that we get it right.

FDA’s Medical Countermeasures Initiative (MCMi) plays a critical role in protecting the United States from chemical, biological, nuclear and emerging infectious disease threats. We work to ensure that medical countermeasures (MCMs) are safe, effective, and secure. And, together with U.S. government partners, we help facilitate access to MCMs.

Communications related to these products are a key part of ensuring access. Broadly distributing meaningful risk and benefit information concerning MCMs in an emergency is essential to gaining public trust, increasing voluntary and proper use of recommended countermeasures, and ultimately improving public health outcomes—saving lives.

Project Description

This two-year project will catalog the most likely and serious difficulties that may complicate emergency administration of MCMs, and develop communication strategies to help ensure appropriate public use of life-saving MCMs in emergency situations.

This effort supports the Strategic Plan for Advancing Regulatory Science at FDA, including the call for collaboration among FDA, Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise partners, industry, and academia on ways to enhance emergency communication, and the request for evaluation of past risk and emergency communications to improve the effectiveness of future communications.

Project Outcomes

This project will systematically collect and characterize MCM emergency communication dilemmas, and proactively identify strategies to manage them. Benefits of this approach include:

  • Helping set realistic expectations among public health communicators about what it takes to ensure appropriate use of MCMs in emergency situations; and
  • Better preparing FDA and other communicators to get MCM risk and benefit information to the public how and when they need it.

The Center will establish an independent expert working group on MCM emergency communication strategies, to ensure that the project’s ultimate recommendations reflect the best and most recent breakthroughs in risk communication science. Deliverables will include a casebook on MCM emergency communication dilemmas, organized around specific learning objectives—in other words, it will help communicators apply best practices in real situations. 

Accomplishments (updated July 2016)

As part of the casebook deliverable for this project, the Center:

  • Prepared an overview of expert-vetted model practices in risk and crisis communication, establishing their relevance for managing public health emergencies involving MCMs, and
  • Conducted four case studies of select public health emergencies in which communication about MCMs was important.

Additional Reading

The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the FDA.

This project was funded through the MCMi Regulatory Science Extramural Research program.

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