Pandemic Preparedness and Responses to the 2009 H1N1 Influenza: Crisis Management and Public Policy Insights
Source TitleOxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
PublisherOxford University Press
University of Melbourne Author/sBaekkeskov, Erik
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
CitationsBaekkeskov, E. (2020). Pandemic Preparedness and Responses to the 2009 H1N1 Influenza: Crisis Management and Public Policy Insights. Stern, E (Ed.). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, (1), pp.1-28. Oxford University Press.
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-12-17
From the 1990s and onward, governments and global health actors have dedicated resources and policy attention to threats from emerging infectious diseases, particularly those with pandemic (i.e., global epidemic) potential. Between April 2009 and August 2010, the world experienced the first pandemic in this new era of global preparedness, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. In line with expectations generated during preparedness efforts in the preceding years, the 2009 H1N1 outbreak consisted of the rapid spread of a novel influenza virus. At the urging of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the years prior to 2009, governments had written pandemic plans for what to do if a pandemic influenza occurred. Some had also taken costly steps to improve response capacity by stockpiling antiviral drugs developed against influenza viruses, pre-purchasing vaccines (which, in turn, led pharmaceutical companies to develop pandemic influenza vaccine models and production capacity), asking domestic healthcare institutions and other organizations to write their own specific pandemic plans, and running live exercises based on constructed scenarios. Aside from departments and agencies of national governments, these preparations involved international organizations, private companies, local governments, hospitals, and healthcare professionals. How can social science scholarship make use of policies and actions related to pandemic preparedness and response, and 2009 H1N1 responses in particular, to generate new insights? The existing literatures on pandemic preparedness and responses to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic illustrate that sites of similarity and difference in pandemic preparedness and response offer opportunities for practical guidance and theory development about crisis management and public policy, as well as policy learning between jurisdictions. Because many jurisdictions and governmental actors were involved, pandemic preparations during the early 2000s and responses to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic offer rich grounds for comparative social science as well as transboundary crisis management research. This includes opportunities to identify whether and how crises involve unique or relatively ordinary political dynamics. It also involves unusual opportunities for learning between jurisdictions that dealt with related issues. Government preparations and responses were often informed by biomedical experts and officials who were networked with each other, as well as by international public health organizations, such as WHO. Yet the loci of preparedness and response were national governments, and implementation relied on local hospitals and healthcare professionals. Hence, the intense period of pandemic preparedness and response between about 2000 and 2010 pitted the isomorphic forces of uniform biology and international collaboration against the differentiating forces of human societies. Social scientific accounts of biosecuritization have charted the emerging awareness of new and untreatable infectious diseases and the pandemic preparedness efforts that followed. First, since about 1990, public health scholars and agencies have been increasingly concerned with general biosecurity linked to numerous disease threats, both natural and man-made. This informed a turn from public health science and policy practice that relied on actuarial statistics about existing diseases to use of scenarios and simulations with projected (or imagined) threats. Second, new disease-fighting prospects presented opportunities for entrepreneurial political and public administrative bodies to “securitize” infectious disease threats in the late 1990s and early 2000s, implying greater empowerment of some agencies and groups within policy systems. Finally, influenza gained a particularly prominent role as a “natural” biosecurity threat as major powers dedicated significant resources to managing the risks of bioterror after September 2001. In subsequent pandemic preparedness efforts, potentially very deadly and contagious influenza became the world community’s primary focus. In turn, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic occurred in the wake of this historic surge in global and national pandemic and, more broadly, biosecurity preparedness efforts. The pandemic led to responses from almost every government in the world throughout 2009 and into 2010, as well as international organizations for public health and medicines. In the wake of the pandemic, formal and scholarly reviews of “lessons learned” sought to inform and influence next steps in pandemic preparedness using the rich panoply of 2009 H1N1 response successes and failures. These generally show that many of the problems often identified in crisis response were repeated in pandemic response. But they also suggest that the rich and varied pandemic experiences offer potential to spread good crisis management practice between jurisdictions, rather than just between events within one jurisdiction. Finally, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic experience allowed careful and in-depth studies of policymaking dynamics relevant to political science, public policy, and public administration theory. Interest-based politics (“politics as usual”) offers partial explanations of the 2009 H1N1 responses, as it does for many public policies. However, the studies of 2009 H1N1 response-making reveal that science and scientific advice (“unusual” politics because scientists are often sidelined in day-to-day policymaking) strongly shaped 2009 H1N1 responses in some contexts. Hence, some of the pandemic response experiences offer insights that are otherwise hard to empirically verify into how sciences (or scientific advisors and networks) become powerful and use power when they have it. As mentioned, the numerous national pandemic response processes during 2009 generated sharply differing pandemic responses. Notably, this was true even among relatively similar countries (e.g., EU member states) and, indeed, subnational regions (e.g., U.S. states). It was also true even when policymaking was dominated by epidemiological and medical experts (e.g., countries in Northwestern Europe). The studies show that global and national scientific leaders, and the pandemic response guidance or policies they made, relied mostly on pre-pandemic established ideas and practices (national ideational trajectories, or paradigms) in their pandemic response decisions. While data about 2009 H1N1 were generated and shared internationally, and government agencies and experts in numerous settings engaged in intense deliberation and sensemaking about 2009 H1N1, such emerging information and knowledge only affected global and national responses slowly (if ever), and, at most, as course alterations.
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