Preparing for an influenza pandemic: ethical issues

Bioethics. 2005 Aug;19(4):422-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2005.00453.x.


In the near future, experts predict, an influenza pandemic will likely spread throughout the world. Many countries have been creating a contingency plan in order to mitigate the severe health and social consequences of such an event. Examination of the pandemic plans of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, from an ethical perspective, raises several concerns. One: scarcity of human and material resources is assumed to be severe. Plans focus on prioritization but do not identify resources that would be optimally required to reduce deaths and other serious consequences. Hence, these plans do not facilitate a truly informed choice at the political level where decisions have to be made on how much to invest now in order to reduce scarcity when a pandemic occurs. Two: mass vaccination is considered to be the most important instrument for reducing the impact of infection, yet pandemic plans do not provide concrete estimates of the benefits and burdens of vaccination to assure everyone that the balance is highly favorable. Three: pandemic plans make extraordinary demands on health care workers, yet professional organizations and unions may not have been involved in the plans' formulation and they have not been assured that authorities will aim to protect and support health care workers in a way that corresponds to the demands made on them. Four: all sectors of society and all individuals will be affected by a pandemic and everyone's collaboration will be required. Yet, it appears that the various populations have been inadequately informed by occasional media reports. Hence, it is essential that plans are developed and communication programs implemented that will not only inform but also create an atmosphere of mutual trust and solidarity; qualities that at the time of a pandemic will be much needed.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Communication
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs*
  • Influenza Vaccines / supply & distribution
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control*
  • International Cooperation*
  • Policy Making
  • Resource Allocation / ethics
  • Risk Assessment
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Voluntary Programs


  • Influenza Vaccines