DoD Plans Web Page to Support President's Plans Against Pandemic
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2005 DoD's deployment health officials plan to post a Web page later this week as part of President Bush's strategy to combat the possibility of a flu pandemic.
Officials said the page will include frequently asked questions, information geared to servicemembers and links to other resources.
The president today called for $7.1 billion in emergency funding during a visit to the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Md., near here. He said it is vital Americans address the threat of pandemic flu now.
"There is no pandemic flu in our country or in the world at this time," he said. "But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare, and one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today."
Bush also requested $1.2 billion to buy 20 million doses of a vaccine against the current avian flu. The virus, not now easily passed among people, could mutate and pose a threat. Millions of domesticated birds in Asia and now Europe have been destroyed after showing signs of the disease. The avian flu has crossed species and infected 121 people worldwide. Sixty have died from it.
The avian flu is just the most virulent example of the virus; other flu viruses, while less deadly, can still affect people.
Bush outlined a plan to stop outbreaks of flu from becoming a pandemic - disease that affects people worldwide - different from what most people know as seasonal outbreaks from flu viruses already circulating. Pandemics occur "when a new influenza A virus appears or emerges in the human population, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide," according to information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
Bush said that detection and containment of outbreaks are key to the government's strategy. "A pandemic is a lot like a ... forest fire; if caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage," the president said. "If allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it."
Bush said that 88 nations have joined the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza. This a global network of surveillance and preparedness requires participating countries that suspect an outbreak to immediately share information and provide samples to the World Health Organization.
"Together we're working to control and monitor avian flu in Asia and to ensure that all nations have structures in place to recognize and report outbreaks before they spread beyond human control," Bush said. The president has asked for $251 million to help nations train local medical personnel, expand surveillance and testing capacities, draw up preparedness plans and take action to detect and contain outbreaks.
In the United States the president has initiated the National Biosurveillance Initiative. "This initiative will help us rapidly detect, quantify and respond to outbreaks of disease in humans and animals and deliver information quickly to state and local and national and international public health officials," he said.
The strategy also calls on building stockpiles of vaccines and antiviral drugs and accelerating development of new vaccine technologies. "One of the challenges presented by a pandemic is that scientists need a sample of the new strain before they can produce a vaccine against it," he said.
It takes time to produce a vaccine to combat the specific stain of flu. "To help protect our citizens during these early months when a fully effective vaccine would not be available, we're taking a number of immediate steps," he said.
In the avian flu case, researchers have developed a vaccine against the H5N1 strain. The president wants enough vaccine to vaccinate 20 million Americans. "A vaccine against the current avian flu virus would likely offer some protection against a pandemic strain, and possibly save many lives in the first critical months of an outbreak," he said.
The United States will also increase stockpiles of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza. While the drugs don't stop people from getting the virus, they can mitigate the effects.
The president is turning to technologies to help protect Americans. He wants to fund processes that will allow drug makers to produce new vaccines rapidly. "If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine online quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic's strain," he said.
He has received assurances from drug companies that they will work with government researchers to accomplish this mission.
The strategy includes putting in place plans for coping with pandemic outbreaks. "A pandemic is unlike other natural disasters," he said. "Outbreaks can happen simultaneously at hundreds or even thousands of locations at the same time."
A pandemic can also last for a year or more, and states and local governments must have plans in place to cope with the situation. "We must ensure that all levels of government are ready to act to contain an outbreak," he said. "We must be able to deliver vaccines and other treatments to front-line responders and at-risk populations."
Federal, state and local officials must work together to put these plans in place. "To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment," he said. "In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators, masks and protective equipment would be in short supply. So the federal government is stockpiling critical supplies in locations across America as part of the strategic national stockpile."
The federal Department of Health and Human Services is helping states create rosters of medical personnel who are willing to help alleviate local shortfalls during a pandemic, and every federal department involved in health care is expanding plans to ensure that all federal medical facilities, personnel and response capabilities are available to support local communities in the event of a pandemic crisis, the president said.
Information is critical to stemming infections and the president announced the creation of a new Web site - www.pandemicflu.gov - to give out that information