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Pandemic influenza preparedness
By Martin J. Blaser


November 02, 2005

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) applauds President Bush and his administration for outlining an aggressive domestic and international approach to pandemic influenza preparedness and giving this issue the high level of attention that it warrants. IDSA has long urged the U.S. government to develop preparedness and response strategies to limit the death, pain, human suffering, and economic burden that will result from a pandemic.

IDSA believes the pandemic clock is ticking; we just don't know what time it is. By strengthening global surveillance activities and reinvigorating the development of vaccines and antivirals, the president's strategy will go a long way toward pandemic influenza preparedness. This preparedness will yield important health benefits, even if the next pandemic does not appear for years. IDSA specifically supports the proposed investments for new cell-based vaccine technologies and incentives to lure new manufacturers into the vaccine and antimicrobial market, such as liability protections. Although the president did not mention tax credits, we also support such incentives for research and manufacturing to motivate industry to produce new vaccines, antivirals, and antibiotics, particularly within U.S. borders.

Significant issues remain to be resolved, however, including investment in state and local preparedness, surge capacity, and risk communication.

We realize that the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) pandemic preparedness and response plan, which will soon be released, will include more specific details about the president's strategy. As soon as the new plan comes out, IDSA will review it carefully with an eye toward continued refinement, including the following safeguards:

  • centralized coordination of federal pandemic and interpandemic ("normal" flu season) activities with clear lines of accountability known to all
  • adequate stockpiles of vaccine and antivirals
  • research and development efforts for new vaccines, antivirals, and antibiotics
  • strengthened and coordinated capabilities to help state and local health departments prepare and respond
  • significant enhancements for hospital surge capacity and information technology development
  • energized global surveillance activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including epidemic detection and response
  • a discussion of how to measure progress and accountability in implementing the plan

Preparing for pandemic flu is like preparing for a professional football game. You need a sophisticated and well-thought-out playbook. You need good, strong players. You need to plot out the scenarios, and every player needs to practice and know the drill. But once you are on the field, you need the flexibility to think fast and change the game plan when the need arises.

The president's strategy provides an initial framework with strong potential. Success will require a long-term commitment and coordinated effort from the state and local government, the medical profession, business, and the American people.

Martin J. Blaser, MD,
President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America
New York, NY - USA



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