build public awareness and understanding of these or other alternative strategies.11
These community conversations on alternative strategies for facilitating access to antiviral medications during an influenza pandemic represent a novel initiative by the IOM to engage the public in public health preparedness planning at the national level. As intended, the three sessions convened members of diverse regions and populations for vigorous discussion of the acceptability of alternative delivery and informational strategies for antivirals presently under development at the CDC. Although the outputs generated by these public engagements do not represent a consensus and are not generalizable to wider populations, they do describe a variety of attitudes, concerns, and potential areas of misunderstanding that the CDC could expect to encounter in its future planning activities or when implementing any of these strategies during a pandemic. Similarly, they include potentially useful suggestions for improving or building on the current proposed strategies.
Finally, the purpose of these community conversations was not to test the general value of public engagement in the development of public health strategies. However, the depth, breadth, and quality of the information yielded by the discussions, the apparent increase in participant understanding and acceptance of the proposed strategies, and the positive responses reflected in evaluations all suggest that these types of forums offer reciprocal benefits to participants and policy makers and have a great potential to positively impact the development of public health policy.
11One observation, common throughout the community conversations, was the tendency of many participants to refer to antiviral medications and vaccines interchangeably. Whether misunderstandings relate to differences between medications and vaccines or differences among antivirals (i.e., to treat people with influenza or HIV), policy makers should not assume that everyone is knowledgeable about the distinctions.