Critical Decisions: Current Flu Scare Presents Interesting Case Study

The 2009 H1N1 flu scare presents an interesting case study for making critical decisions.  Whether to produce a vaccine, how to structure the vaccine and which quantities to manufacture are decisions that pit a potential health disaster against the needs of governments and companies to manage their resources responsibly.  From a decision making standpoint each choice represents significant risks and decision makers find themselves in a race against time while searching for the information needed to make good decisions.

In a nutshell, officials and business leaders to have to

  • Decide when to act: developing vaccines, producing them and getting them to where they can do the most good takes significant money, time and human resources
  • Figure out what to do: doing too little could lead to a major health crises while doing too much could result in wasted resources at a time when our means are already stretched thin
  • Find the best time to act: if they act too soon, the wrong vaccine may be developed, significant resources may be wasted and lives may be lost – if action is delayed for too long the proper vaccine may not be ready in time to prevent major loss of live or productivity
  • Weigh the relative impact of each decision: regardless of which choices are made, each will have significant effects on people and business – the trick lies in finding choices with the least negative impact.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this situation underscores the critical value of accurate, timely and appropriate information.  While scientists work around the clock to fully understand this new virus, vaccine manufacturers still have to look at some hard facts – after all, they can only produce vaccines as long as they can stay in business.  Some of the critical pieces of information to be gathered include:

  • Does this virus present a serious enough threat to warrant the production of a vaccine?
  • How many people are really at risk?
  • How many doses will actually be needed?
  • How long will it take to produce them?
  • What are the costs of speeding up production or increasing capacity should this become necessary?

While it may sound inappropriate to worry about bottom lines when people’s lives are potentially at stake, it would be reckless to rush ahead with producing a product that may never be needed.

Further reading:

Officials Face a Tough Decision Over Ordering Vaccine
Wall Street Journal (4/30/2009)

Swine flu: How serious is the global threat?
James M. Steckelberg, M.D.; The Mayo Clinic

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