For Immediate Release: April 27, 2009
Trust for America's Health Applauds U.S. Response to Swine Flu
WASHINGTON, DC - Trust for America's Health (TFAH) today commended the Administration for its fast and effective response to the swine flu outbreak.
"The Administration has taken the right approach to managing the swine flu outbreak, with experts and scientists driving key decisions. The leadership and coordination among CDC, HHS, DHS, and state and local governments are clear and strong," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "The preparations the country has made since the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza was issued in November 2005 are now paying off. In the past three and a half years, we've made monumental improvements in surveillance, coordination, communications, and control and treatment capabilities. Yet, additional resources are needed to adequately prepare the nation for such an impending emergency."
In order to continue to respond to this swine flu outbreak and to continue and improve preparations and the capacity to respond to other potential pandemic outbreaks, such as the H5N1 "bird flu," TFAH recommends:
- Completing the funding to implement the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. Former President Bush originally requested $7.1 billion to carry out research and development for vaccinations, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices needed to respond to a pandemic. $870 million of this has never been funded. This funding was originally included in both the FY 2008 budget and proposed 2009 stimulus bill, but was removed each time before the bills' final passage.
- With more than $1 billion of HHS funding, six companies are in various stages of implementing commercial-scale production of cell-based methods and/or expanding their vaccine capacity using eggs. By 2011, U.S. based vaccine production capacity is expected to be at a point in which it can generate enough pandemic influenza vaccine for every American within six months of the time that the pandemic virus is identified, according to the most recent Pandemic Planning Update from HHS. However, the U.S. will not reach that capacity without completion of the initial investment.
- Replenishing and building the Strategic National Stockpile. Purchasing antiviral medications, vaccines, and equipment for the stockpile should be a federal responsibility. Responding to this outbreak will require using a significant portion of the currently stockpiled Tamiflu® and other medical equipment, such as respirator masks. These medications and equipment will need to be restocked. In addition, the stockpile has existing shortfalls in the number of masks, respirators, and medications needed to respond to this and other possible pandemics, which must be completed to be prepared for the possibility of other strains of flu.
- At the end of 2008, the Strategic National Stockpile reportedly contained 104 million N95 respirators; 51.6 million surgical masks; 20 million syringes for pre-pandemic vaccine; 4,000 ventilators. Purchasing antiviral medications should become solely a federal responsibility. Under the plan from the previous Administration, states were expected to purchase a portion of the antiviral medications that would be needed to protect citizens in their states, through a program that included 25 percent subsidy from the federal government. While the federal government has purchased enough antivirals to cover 50 million Americans, as of October 2008, states only had purchased 22 million courses of antivirals, which is nine million short of the goal, leaving Americans in some states more vulnerable than others.
- Providing resources for state and local health departments to adequately prepare for outbreaks. State and local officials are the front line responders to outbreaks, yet they have not received any federal funding for pandemic flu preparedness since FY 2006. $350 million is needed annually to adequately maintain state and local pandemic preparedness activities.
- All 50 states and D.C. have a pandemic flu preparedness plan.
- All 50 states and D.C. have adequate plans to receive and distribute emergency vaccines, antidotes, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies from the SNS, based on a review by CDC.
- All 50 states and D.C. have increased or maintained rates for vaccinating adults ages 65 and older for seasonal flu, which is a key indicator for showing how well states could vaccinate individuals in an emergency.
- All but three states reported that their public health laboratories meet the expectations of their state's pandemic flu plan (as of November 2008). Increase support for the Global Disease Detection (GDD) program. In 2007, the GDD program received $33.7 million in funding. If the funding was increased to $55 million, four additional regional detection centers could be established to improve global disease outbreak detection and control.
Some additional ongoing challenges for pandemic preparedness that TFAH has identified in recent analyses include:
- Maintaining real-time disease detection and surveillance capabilities;
- Managing mass casualty care if there is a major surge in patients at hospitals and treatment facilities;
- Ensuring the ability to swiftly and safely distribute and administer medical treatments and vaccines;
- Reaching and providing special services for at-risk and vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and low-income communities;
- Bolstering the public health workforce with enough experts and officials, many state and local health departments have experienced workforce cuts during the recession; and
- Protecting health officials and volunteer medical providers during emergencies.
TFAH's annual health emergency preparedness report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism, and a report that examined the potential impact of a severe pandemic outbreak, Pandemic Flu and the Potential for U.S. Economic Recession, are available on TFAH's Web site: www.healthyamericans.org. Also, brochures about how individuals, businesses, community-based organizations and the medical community are available at the Web site.
Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority.