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Crying wolf? Impact of the H1N1 2009 influenza pandemic on anticipated public response to a future pandemic

Melanie R Taylor, Garry J Stevens, Kingsley E Agho, Sheree A Kable and Beverley Raphael
Med J Aust 2012; 197 (10): 561-564. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11623

Summary

Objective: To determine changes in public threat perception and anticipated compliance with health-protective behaviours in response to a future pandemic; using data collected before and after the H1N1 2009 influenza pandemic.

Design, setting and participants: Repeat cross-sectional computer-assisted telephone surveys with representative samples of the general New South Wales population in 2007 (2081 participants) and 2010 (2038 participants).

Main outcome measures: Perceived likelihood of a future pandemic in Australia; concern that respondents or their families would be affected; degree of change made to life because of the possibility of a pandemic; and willingness to comply with health-protective behaviours (to be vaccinated, to be isolated if necessary, and to wear a face mask).

Results: In 2007, 14.9% of the general population considered that an influenza pandemic would be highly likely to occur in future; this proportion rose to 42.8% in 2010 (odds ratio [OR], 4.96; 95% CI, 3.99–6.16; P < 0.001). Conversely, in the same period concern that respondents or their families would be directly affected by a future pandemic dropped from 45.5% to 32.5% (OR, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.44–0.74; P < 0.001). Willingness to be vaccinated against influenza in a future pandemic decreased from 75.4% to 64.6% (OR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.55–0.86; P < 0.001). A general decrease in willingness to be vaccinated was noted across all age groups, most notably for those aged 35–44 years.

Conclusions: Data collected before and after the H1N1 2009 influenza pandemic indicated significant shifts in public threat perception and anticipated response to a future pandemic. The H1N1 2009 pandemic has altered public perceptions of the probability of a pandemic in the future, but has left the public feeling less vulnerable. Shifts in perception have the potential to reduce future public compliance with health-protective measures, including critical elements of the public health response, such as vaccination.

  • Melanie R Taylor1
  • Garry J Stevens2
  • Kingsley E Agho3
  • Sheree A Kable4
  • Beverley Raphael5

  • School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: melanie.taylor@uws.edu.au

Acknowledgements: 

Both studies were funded by the Australian Government. The 2007 study was funded by Emergency Management Australia, Attorney-General’s Department and the 2010 study was funded by National Security Science and Technology Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We would like to thank Margo Barr, Matthew Gorringe and Lindy Fritsche, Centre for Epidemiology and Research, New South Wales Ministry of Health, who provided assistance with question development, validation, and data collection.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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