White House issues 1-year status report on pandemic planning

Jul 17, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The White House Homeland Security Council today released a 1-year update on the federal government's pandemic influenza preparedness strategy, reporting that it has met 86% of the objectives it set for itself a year ago.

The 41-page report details work completed on the goals federal officials outlined when they released the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan in May 2006. Today's report is also a follow-up to a status report released on Dec 18, which reported that the government had completed more than 90% of the 6-month benchmarks it had set.

Work on the remaining 14% of the actions is in progress and should be completed by the 18-month mark, the White House said in a press release today.

Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director for Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a Washington, DC–based nonprofit health advocacy group, in a statement released today, lauded the government for its progress toward pandemic preparedness.

"The transparency with which the Administration has set its pandemic flu preparedness goals and then held itself accountable for achieving them is a model for how public health policy should be made," Levi said in the statement. "The American people rightly expect this level of openness in their government, and the cabinet agencies reporting today should be commended for achieving it."

Global efforts
The United States has spearheaded several efforts to control the international spread of the H5N1 avian influenza virus, the report says. Among them, the US government has provided H5N1 surveillance and response training to more than 129,000 animal health workers and 17,000 healthcare workers. The United States has donated 300,000 personal protective equipment kits to surveillance and outbreak response workers in more than 70 countries, and it has prepositioned overseas stocks of protective supplies, decontamination kits, and antiviral medication.

In terms of technical expertise, the report says the United States has provided assistance to 39 of 60 countries that have been affected by H5N1 outbreaks. Seventy-five countries have received US support for improved laboratory diagnosis and early warning networks.

To track genetic changes in the H5N1 virus the United States has sequenced more than 2,250 human and avian isolates, according to the report.

Domestic issues
In the past year, the United States has invested more than $1 billion to develop new vaccine technologies, such as cell-based vaccine production and research on new adjuvants. In April, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first prepandemic H5N1 vaccine, and federal officials have stockpiled enough doses to treat 6 million people, according to the report.

Since last May the government has invested $600 million for state and local preparedness efforts, which support the development of community mitigation strategies, medical surge plans, and mass vaccination strategies. The government says it has launched new guidelines to improve emergency medical service delivery and 911 service in a pandemic setting.

Federal officials have released major pandemic planning guidance reports in the past year that addressed three key categories: community mitigation, mass medical care with scarce resources, and response and recovery for critical infrastructure.

Ongoing tasks
The report says despite notable progress over the past year, work must continue in several important areas, such as strengthening disease detection and biosurveillance.

"We must redouble efforts to develop 'real time' clinical surveillance in the United States, so that we are able to target and refine our efforts more effectively during a pandemic," it states.

Despite investment in medical surge capacity, more work is needed to ensure that communities can treat the high number of sick patients in a severe pandemic, federal officials said.

Globally, the US government can still do more to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies, international partners, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to boost global vaccine development and improve nations' access to vaccines.

Also, federal officials need to continue working with nongovernmental stakeholders to implement community mitigation strategies and build community resilience. For example, in June the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a summit on pandemic readiness for leaders in business, faith, healthcare, and civic communities.

Based on the feedback it received at the conference, HHS officials said they would develop toolkits, tailored to four community sectors, that leaders can use to teach people more about pandemic flu and what they can do to prepare. In the fall, the HHS will launch more intensive communication preparedness campaigns tailored to 10 to 15 diverse communities.

Levi agreed that the government still has much pandemic planning work to do. "This report demonstrates that the federal government has made major strides in preparedness for a pandemic, but as the Administration also recognizes, there is still a long way to go before all levels of government and all sectors of society are fully prepared," he said in the TFAH statement.

He pointed out three critical areas that need more intensive federal efforts: assuring that states and localities develop medical surge capacity, helping many community sectors adapt to community mitigation guidelines, including those that address respirator use, and providing a steady funding stream for state and local pandemic preparedness efforts.

See also:

Jul 17 White House press release on pandemic planning status

National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza 1-year summary report

National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan

Dec 29, 2006 CIDRAP News article "Feds detail progress on pandemic preparedness"

Jul 17 TFAH press release

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