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Sell, Kerstin; Saringer-Hamiti, Lea; Geffert, Karin; Strahwald, Brigitte; Stratil, Jan M.; Pfadenhauer, Lisa M. ORCID: 0000-0001-5038-8072 (2021): Politikberatung durch Expert*innenräte in der SARS-CoV-2-Pandemie in Deutschland. Eine Dokumentenanalyse aus Public-Health-Perspektive. In: Zeitschrift fur Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualitat im Gesundheitswesen, Vol. 165: pp. 1-12
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Abstract

INTRODUCTION During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, policymakers have to make far-reaching decisions that should be supported by scientific evidence. This presents a major challenge, given the limited availability of evidence, especially in the early phases of the pandemic. Decision-makers thus turned to scientific experts to help to convey and contextualize the evidence for public health policymaking. The way in which these experts were consulted varied widely. Some decision-makers called on expert committees in which they convened multiple experts from different disciplines. However, the composition and role of these committees have raised questions of transparency and representation. This study examines whether and how expert committees in Germany were convened at the federal and national level to advise governments and ministries during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. We investigated the disciplinary composition, gender representation and the transparency related to the convening of these bodies, work processes and the accessibility of results. METHODS We performed a multi-stage document analysis. Between May and July 2020, we submitted freedom-of-information requests to the governmental institutions at both a federal and a national level. In addition to analysing the responses to these requests, we conducted a thorough search and analysis of the i) pandemic preparedness plans, (ii) official press releases and (iii) minor interpellations (\textquotedblKleine Anfragen\textquotedbl) at the federal and state level. We included documents on expert committees in the SARS-CoV-2 context for the period from January to the beginning of December 2020 and carried out a qualitative content analysis. RESULTS We identified a total of 21 expert committees that were established in ten federal states and four federal ministries. In eleven committees, the members were known by name, with women making up 26~% of the members. Biomedical disciplines such as virology, hygiene, medicine, and biology were the most commonly represented. Other disciplines including economics, law and sociology, and non-scientific experts were represented in seven federal states. The members of ten committees were not known by name. These committees covered different thematic areas (school and day-care, civil participation, medicine and care, economic topics), and their members were more commonly practitioners or came from affected populations. DISCUSSION The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to an increased consultation of experts in public health policymaking. However, expert committees in Germany are not sufficiently representative and interdisciplinary to take different perspectives into account and ultimately advise politicians in complex pandemic situations. Furthermore, the work of these committees is not sufficiently transparent because access to information is limited. CONCLUSION Due to this lack of transparency, it is unclear whether and how the expert committees exerted an influence on politics. Transparency of political decision-making processes and the consideration of pluralistic perspectives are considered essential for the legitimation and quality of political decisions in a pandemic and should therefore be strengthened in pandemic management in Germany.