Officials Say U.S. Not Prepared for Pandemic Flu
The U.S. currently is not prepared for a pandemic flu and will not have the manufacturing capacity to produce enough vaccine for all U.S. residents for three to five years, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said Sunday, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. Leavitt appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" with CDC Director Julie Gerberding; Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization.
Leavitt said, "We're not as prepared as we need to be. ...We will not have enough [vaccine] for everyone." He said local governments will have to establish plans on how to allocate vaccine in the event of an outbreak. Gerberding said, "We're not prepared for vaccination. That's why we need to scale up." She continued, "We are doing studies to extend the value of the vaccine, ... allowing us to vaccinate more people with the same doses." She said President Bush has proposed stockpiling 81 million doses of the antiviral medications Tamiflu, from Roche Holding, and Relenza, from GlaxoSmithKline, and added that the drugs' manufacturers believe they can meet that goal by mid-2006.
Fauci said officials "can't put a number" on "how probable" it is that the H5N1 strain avian flu will reach the U.S. or achieve pandemic status in humans. He said, "It's a low probability. When the consequences are unimaginable, you must assume the worst-case scenario."
Fauci added that the chances that H5N1 will mutate to a form that is transmittable from human to human is low. Such a mutation is possible but "not necessarily inevitable," he said. "We know it can jump from a chicken to a human," Fauci said, adding, "If the virus was the seasonal flu with the inherent capability that the seasonal flu has of going from human to human, you would have seen an explosion of cases in Southeast Asia. ...We're not seeing that now."
Gerberding said, "Even if [H5N1] does enter through a migratory bird at some point, which won't be surprising, we have a wonderful system of surveillance."
Ryan said, "We're probably closer to a pandemic [than] at any time in the last 37 years." He said WHO is working to improve surveillance in Asia. He continued, "If we were to detect the emergence of the pandemic strain early enough, some models suggest that with the application of social distancing or quarantine-like measures and the rapid distribution of antivirals in that population, we may be able to significantly slow down or even stop the emergence of a pandemic strain" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 11/21).
The complete "Meet the Press" transcript is available online.
Video excerpts of the program in Windows Media are available online.
The following articles also address recent developments related to avian flu.
- "Past Yields Few Clues for Predicting Flu" (Marchione/Ritter, AP/Long Island Newsday, 11/20).
- "Experts Building Bird Flu Warning System" (Ngowi, AP/Long Island Newsday, 11/20).
- "Migration Routes a Factor in Bird Flu Fight" (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 11/21).
- "Precautions, Not Panic: Travel Industry Remembering SARS, Braces in Case Avian Flu Spreads" (Belden, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/20).
- "Pacific Summit Targets Bird Flu" (Hoo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/19).
- "U.S. Think Tank Details Steps To Contain Bird Flu" (Sternberg, USA Today, 11/21).