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Mitigating Pandemic Influenza: The Ethics of Implementing a School Closure Policy

Berkman, Benjamin E. JD, MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: July-August 2008 - Volume 14 - Issue 4 - p 372–378
doi: 10.1097/01.PHH.0000324566.72533.0b

Pandemic influenza response plans have placed a significant emphasis on school closures as a community mitigation strategy. However, school closures raise serious ethical concerns, many of which have been largely overlooked. First, evidence of this intervention's efficacy has not yet been firmly established, calling into question whether it will be useful against the threat. Second, school closures have the potential to create serious adverse consequences, which will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. Thus, policy makers should focus on gathering more evidence about the efficacy of school closures and on strengthening communication and transparency about the strengths and weaknesses of any school-closure plan that they decide to adopt. Policy makers should also consider intermediate options, such as partial school closures, which might provide ways to reap many of the benefits of school closings, while minimizing the costs. Finally, policy makers must labor to ensure that the benefits and the burdens of any interventions are distributed equitably.

This article reviews the pandemic influenza response plans by the policy makers and discusses the effectiveness of school closures as a community mitigation strategy.

Benjamin E. Berkman, JD, MPH, is Adjunct Professor and Deputy Director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he has just completed a fellowship in Biosecurity Law and Policy. Mr Berkman received a Juris Doctor and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Michigan. He has worked with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has served on an Institute of Medicine committee relating to pandemic influenza preparedness.

Corresponding Author: Benjamin E. Berkman, JD, MPH, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC (

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.