Survey Assesses Public Attitudes, Knowledge and Misinformation About Bioterrorism

Surveying public opinion on the growing threat of biological terrorism

In late 2001 and 2002, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, working with a polling firm, International Communications Research, conducted four national and three regional telephone surveys of public opinion and knowledge about the threat of bioterrorism in the United States. The surveys were conducted in response to the anthrax infections that occurred in October 2001 and concern over the possibility of a smallpox attack.

Key Results

The project team reported their findings from the surveys, which included the following:

  • Members of households with postal workers were significantly more worried about contracting anthrax than the general population.
  • No national figure was trusted by a majority of respondents as a source of reliable information during a bioterrorism outbreak.
  • Anthrax attacks affected the lives of a large share of people in communities where they occurred.
  • Most respondents were confident that their doctor could recognize smallpox symptoms and that local hospitals and health departments could manage an outbreak.
  • A majority (61 percent) said they would get vaccinated or revaccinated if a vaccine were offered, with larger numbers saying they would if there were an outbreak in the U.S. (75 percent) or their own community (88 percent).

Funding

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $245,000 to support this project.