In the recent Legal Pulse post “Will Little-known Federal Advisory Panel Deprive Infants of Meningitis Vaccine?, we noted the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) shrouded convening of a “public” meeting on May 25 where “stakeholders” would discuss among other things the “competing priorities and values” of sanctioning vaccination of infants against meningococcal disease. We know this was to be discussed not because we read an announcement of the meeting (there was none), but because we got a hold of the invitation letter, which we share here as a public service.

In classic bureaucratic fashion, the meeting seemed mostly to be about how best to conduct other meetings which will occur as part of a listening tour (Concord, New Hampshire, June 15; Seattle, early July; Chicago, July 21; Denver, July 25). Another stakeholder meeting will occur in DC in the fall to talk about the four meetings, prior to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice’s (ACIP) meeting in October where reportedly the group will determine a formal recommendation on infant meningitis vaccines.

Since CDC and ACIP are used to basing their decisions on scientific data, it’s not at all surprising that these public health officials are rather uncertain about these public proceedings. How, some reportedly wondered, do we incorporate societal values and opinions about whether there is a public benefit to any particular vaccine into the recommendation process? Some stakeholders and officials expressed concern about how the use of such opinions might be biased toward the extremes of the public’s differing views on infant vaccination.

A cynic might say that CDC and ACIP are counting on those extremes. The meetings could provide a platform for the zealously vocal anti-vaccine crowd, giving the government an opportunity to argue that because public opinion is against expanding meningitis vaccination, that it cannot recommend infant vaccination, or at least can’t support vaccination through the public programs. Public opinion could also be used as a stand-in of sorts for the cost effectiveness concerns that ACIP has professed with infant vaccination: if the public, whose tax money pays for vaccine programs, isn’t supportive, how can we, their government, be supportive?

Some at the meeting reportedly expressed concern over how to attract people to attend at the four different sites. Apparently, CDC has seen the error of its ways in not publicizing the May 25 meeting. The New Hampshire installment of the tour is being promoted by this flier.

The “public” which the  public health system serves should have a chance to be heard when government health policy is being made. But public opinion should not stand in the way of private decisions to utilize an FDA-approved vaccine which could save the lives of countless children.