Bioethics Blogs

Expert Advisory Committees & Conflict of Interest

Jean-Christophe Bélisle-Pipon, Louise Ringuette, and Bryn Williams-Jones describe a five-step approach for managing conflicts of interest in public health decision-making.

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On a regular basis, shocking news filters into the media about conflicts of interest within public organizations that contribute to policy-making. When such allegations are proven true, public scepticism about whether public interests or commercial interests inform policy-making increases.

Public health decision-making, especially in areas of complex science, is generally supported by expert advice. One such area is publicly-funded immunization. In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is an advisory body to the Public Health Agency of Canada, while the provinces and territories rely on advice from local expert advisory committees.

Members of immunization expert advisory committees have an important role to play in guiding public health decision-making, particularly with regard to the selection of vaccines and the scheduling of immunizations. Given this important role, independence and transparency are expected. One mechanism for promoting independence is a robust, publicly available conflict of interest policy.

We suggest a simple five-step approach for better managing conflicts of interest.

First, ask the right questions and identify red flags. What are the interests at stake and for whom?

For example, consider situations where one or more committee members receive(s) significant funding from industry. Are there external interests, as a result of this funding, that may influence the committee’s mandate and activities? This concern applies to private companies with products or business activities related to immunization, or with connections to certain advocacy or interest groups.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.