Local response key to pandemic emergencies
The United States has a federal pandemic plan. But in an emergency, it will be the local response that matters the most, says Jeffrey Levi, senior policy adviser at the Trust for America’s Health.
“The basic day-to-day, where the rubber hits the road for pandemic preparedness is being left to state and local governments,” he tells USA Today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages states to create distribution plans for drugs and vaccines and policies on quarantine and isolation. But details on executing those plans are left to state and local health officials. “In the context of a pandemic, we cannot afford to have state-by-state variation,” Levi says. “We have a national interest in making sure that everyone is equally prepared and that we are using consistent strategies.”
A flu summit in Washington last week, where Levi presented his speech, was sponsored by the CDC, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and other groups and agencies concerned about pandemic flu. Experts warn that a bird flu epidemic that has spread from Asia into Europe could spark a human flu pandemic that could be as severe as the 1918 “Spanish” flu, which killed up to 100 million people worldwide.
To prepare for possibe pandemic, the United States has stockpiled 4.3 million courses of Tamiflu and plans to acquire enough to treat 75 million people. A vaccine is being tested, and others are in development. Congress has so far allocated $3.8 billion for readiness.
But stockpiles should include more than vaccines and anti-virals, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“Today we have a just-in-time delivery system for masks, syringes, for IV bags,” he says. “Right now, the two manufacturers of N95 masks in this country are operating on 100 percent capacity. They have no surge capacity. We will run out quickly of all these things. And at that time, we’ll be dealing with the equivalent of a 1918 health care system.”