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Cognitive Bias and Public Health Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Educational Objective
To understand how cognitive bias affects public health policy during COVID-19
1 Credit CME

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic abates in many countries worldwide, and a new normal phase arrives, critically assessing policy responses to this public health crisis may promote better preparedness for the next wave or the next pandemic. A key lesson is revealed by one of the earliest and most sizeable US federal responses to the pandemic: the investment of $3 billion to build more ventilators. These extra ventilators, even had they been needed, would likely have done little to improve population survival because of the high mortality among patients with COVID-19 who require mechanical ventilation and diversion of clinicians away from more health-promoting endeavors.1 Yet most US residents supported this response because the belief that enough ventilators would be available averted their having to contemplate potentially preventable deaths due to insufficient supply of these devices.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 423 Guardian Dr, 301 Blockley Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (shalpern@upenn.edu).

Published Online: June 29, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.11623

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Truog reported serving as a paid member of data and safety monitoring boards for Sanofi, Gilead, and Covance. No other disclosures were reported.

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