Leavitt Calls for State Summits on Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plans
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Monday urged health officials in all 50 states to convene planning summits within the next four months to discuss plans for preparing for a possible influenza outbreak, the AP/St. Petersburg Times reports. Leavitt made the comment at a national conference of 200 state and federal health and emergency planning officials, who convened in Washington to discuss local and national efforts to prepare for a possible outbreak of pandemic flu (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 12/6).
According to USA Today, the summits are intended to "generate support" for President Bush's $7.1 billion national flu preparedness plan and "provide assistance to local officials," who will be in charge of responding in an outbreak (Sternberg, USA Today, 12/6).
Leavitt said plans could include local policies for distribution of antiviral medications, school closings, travel restrictions and information dissemination. Arizona and Minnesota this month will be the first states to hold flu preparedness planning summits (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 12/6).
HHS released a 63-point pandemic preparation checklist to guide state and local officials in their efforts. The checklist calls for states to appoint a "Pandemic Influenza Coordinating Committee" to create and adopt a state plan.
The checklist said the plan should define state and local roles; improve on existing bioterror or emergency response plans; and "address legal issues including those that affect hospital staffing, patient care and quarantine." HHS also soon plans to issue guidance to schools, businesses, individuals and families on preparing for a possible pandemic.
Leavitt also released new "assumptions" about how a flu pandemic would occur to help guide policy (CQ HealthBeat, 12/5). If a pandemic influenza does occur, the assumptions state that the flu would reach the U.S. within weeks.
Within six weeks of an outbreak, there could be 722,000 cases in the U.S., and within 16 weeks, the U.S. could see 92 million infections (Fox, Reuters/Boston Globe, 12/6). Approximately 45 million of those who become ill would seek medical care (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/6).
In a moderate flu outbreak, an estimated 865,000 U.S residents would require hospitalization and 209,000 U.S. residents would die, the assumptions say (HHS, "Pandemic Influenza Planning," 11/5). In a severe outbreak, 9.9 million U.S. residents would be hospitalized and more than 1.9 million would die (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/6).
Leavitt said that there is "better than a 50% chance" that a pandemic will not occur" (USA Today, 12/6). However, he added, "The reality is ... pandemics happen. We're overdue and underprepared" (Schulte, Houston Chronicle, 12/6). Leavitt said, "We need to lift [planning efforts] to the broader community, those that have not yet begun to understand the potential risks and consequences that a pandemic can have on every aspect of our society " (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/6).
Leavitt said that it is time to move from "ethereal plans to community action," noting that even if there is no pandemic, the nation needs to modernize its vaccine industry, which is a key element of Bush's flu preparedness plan.
CDC Director Julie Gerberding said it is "probably more likely than not" that the H5N1 avian flu virus will not evolve into a pandemic (Los Angeles Times, 12/6).
However, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff added, "No nation on Earth can ignore this threat" (Sternberg, USA Today, 12/6).
Susan Allan, Oregon's public health director, said, "I do have a concern about the focus on a single disease, when other diseases may pose an equally severe risk. I'm afraid that everybody will drop what they're doing on other (health issues) and a lot of good activity will be undercut."
Iowa Health Director Mary Mincer Hansen expressed concern about a provision in Bush's preparedness plan that calls on the states to pay for a portion of the cost of purchasing antiviral drugs. The provision is "doing a disservice to us," Hansen said, adding, "We need a national stockpile" (Los Angeles Times, 12/6).
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, "We've gotten a small amount of money to fill a huge hole" (CQ HealthBeat, 12/5).
In related news, House and Senate leaders are considering options for funding Bush's preparedness plan, CongressDaily reports. According to CongressDaily, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) supports attaching the financing provision -- including liability protections for vaccine makers -- to the fiscal year 2006 Department of Defense appropriations bill or the FY 2006 Departments of Labor and HHS spending bill.
Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree over a liability protections provision -- with Democrats saying consumers should have stronger assurances of compensation if they are harmed by the vaccines -- but a deal is "possible," according to CongressDaily (Heil, CongressDaily, 12/5).
The following articles also looked at issues surrounding a potential flu pandemic.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The article looks at employers' preparations for a possible pandemic flu and the "high costs" they could face in anticipation of "a problem that may or may not materialize" (Geewax, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/4).
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The article examines how "legislative options for the pandemic appropriations have been closing steadily," with Congress scheduled to adjourn Dec. 16 until next year (Nesmith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/4).
AP/Austin America-Statesman: The article examines how some biotechnology firms are viewing avian flu vaccine development with skepticism after a "dreaded global epidemic" of severe acute respiratory syndrome two years ago "never panned out" (Elias, AP/Austin America- Statesman, 12/5).
New York Post: The article examines how a surge in sales of hand sanitizers might be linked to worries about avian flu and other infectious diseases (Carr, New York Post, 12/4).
Philadelphia Inquirer: The article examines how government funding "could accelerate vaccine research and retrofit plants to boost production" (Uhlman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/4).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Monday reported on the ability of current flu vaccine production technologies to respond to pandemic flu. The segment includes comments from:
- Doug Haner, manager of Cornell University's vaccine production flock;
- Len Lavenda, spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur; and
- Al Thomas, flu vaccine production manager at Sanofi Pasteur (Harris, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/5).
In addition, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on efforts to develop cell-based technologies for producing flu vaccines. The segment includes comments from:
- Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at NIH;
- David Markovitz, professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System;
- Howard Pien, chair of the Chiron Corporation;
- Rino Rappuoli, chief scientist at Chiron; and
- Harold Slevin, president and CEO of Solvay Pharmaceuticals (Harris, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/6).
Expanded NPR coverage of pandemic flu is available online. This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.