HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt Outlines U.S. Preparations for Potential Avian Flu Pandemic
The Bush administration on Wednesday announced plans to purchase large amounts of antiviral medications, improve U.S. vaccine production and outline a system to coordinate response efforts at the federal, state and local levels in preparation for a potential avian flu pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 10/6). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, who will travel to Southeast Asia to meet with leaders to discuss the issue, said that early containment of an avian flu outbreak will serve as the central strategy in the response plan (Neergaard, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5).
President Bush on Tuesday said that he would consider the use of the military to enforce quarantines in the U.S. in the event of an avian flu pandemic. In addition, Bush said that the placement of National Guard troops under federal control could serve as part of the response plan (California Healthline, 10/5). Senate Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to Bush that criticized the late release of the draft of the response plan (CQ HealthBeat, 10/5).
"We are not prepared for a pandemic, and it is important that we become prepared," Leavitt said on Wednesday, adding, "Pandemics require the full measure of our attention. We have to improve our readiness."
He also said that the U.S. must improve vaccine production to prevent flu infections, rather than treat patients after infection. In addition, Leavitt said he would implement a comprehensive surveillance system to help detect a potential avian flu outbreak (Wall Street Journal, 10/6).
An updated response plan, which the Bush administration plans to release this month, also will consider other strains of flu and specify when federal health officials will take over for local health officials in the event of a pandemic, according to Leavitt (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5).
Several broadcast programs reported on preparations by researchers for a potential avian flu pandemic:
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment reports on an online game that allows scientists to consider how people might respond to an avian flu pandemics (Sydell, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": Guests on the program included CDC Director Julie Gerberding and William Schaffner, a specialist in infectious diseases with Vanderbilt University (Ifill, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 10/5). The complete segment will be available online after the broadcast.