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Investigations :: December 14, 2005

Pandemic Preparations and Avian Flu

Gaps in the National Flu Preparedness Plan:
Social Science Planning and Response
December 14, 2005

Science Committee Ranking Democrat Bart Gordon invited three experts in biosecurity and preparedness to Washington for an in-depth discussion of the use of social and behavioral sciences in the recently-issued national pandemic influenza plan:

  • Clete DiGiovanni, M.D., Public Health and Medical Advisor, Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (Fort Belvior, VA)
  • Baruch Fischhoff, Ph.D, Howard Heinz University Professor, in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Monica Schoch-Spana, Ph.D., Senior Associate, Center for Biosecurity; Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh (Baltimore, MD)

For more information »

Letter to Administration on Social and Behavioral
Aspects of Pandemic Response Planning

Mr. Gordon organized this event after a review of the pandemic planning documents described below. On December 8, Rep. Gordon wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Julie Gerberding and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. John Marburger to point out that the Department's Pandemic Preparedness Plan poorly addresses the social aspects of dealing with a public health emergency like a pandemic. Mr. Gordon wrote:


"...Experts agree that should a highly lethal form of human influenza, such as H5N1, present itself in the next several years, vaccines and antivirals will fall short. Social distancing, effective communication, and other public health measures will be our only realistic line of defense. This is the realm of social scientists. Yet, neither the National Strategy nor the HHS plan makes effective use of current human behavioral and social science research.


"The HHS plan recognizes the importance of addressing the social dimensions of a pandemic but does nothing more than list them as considerations and needs. There is no indication of how HHS intends to address these issues; there is no indication that they expect anything more than for the states and localities to magically know how to address the items listed. Agreed, many of the social issues are the providence of the state and local government. However, the states and local governments look to the Federal government for guidance and best practices. Such guidance is lacking in the current Pandemic Plan...."

Read Mr. Gordon's letter »

The examples of mismangement in the response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of Louisiana and Mississippi vividly demonstrated the effects of a lack of understanding about how emergency responders and government officials must communicate to the public critical information before, during and after natural disasters or other widespread disruptions. Many studies have been done to try and learn lessons from storms like Katrina or the Three Mile Island nuclear plant crisis of 1979. On November 10, the Science Committee had held a hearing to learn why those lessons did not appear to inform the response to Hurricane Katrina. Similar issues will confront Federal, State and local officials who will have to decide how to distribute available supplies of vaccines or antiviral drugs and possibly initiating quarantines or other restrictions on movement as a virulent flu is sweeping through the population - and then communicate their reasons for these decisions to the public. Mr. Gordon intends to discuss improvements to the current plan with the Administration.

Science Committee Reviews Pandemic Flu Plan

On Tuesday, November 1st, President Bush announced the National Strategy for pandemic influenza.  The following day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its long-awaited Pandemic Influenza Plan.

Cover of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza; click here to obtain the document
Click image to download the National Strategy
Cover of the Health and Human Services Pandemic Influenza Plan
Click image to download the Pandemic Influenza Plan

The Science Committee has performed an in-depth analysis of the plan to ensure that the U.S. is adequately prepared to avert or deflect as much as possible the occurrence of a pandemic.

Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) reminds citizens that, "Despite the daily barrage of news articles and reports on Avian Flu, there is no need to panic. Measures that are good practice for general health, safety and preparedness can be taken." Among those measures are:

  1. Practice good hygiene: cover your mouth and nose when you cough, wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. These are good habits at all times and good for parents to teach to children. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for other helpful ideas.
  2. Unless there is a shortage, get vaccinated for flu each season - it keeps you from getting sick and spreading it to others, cuts absenteeism, and encourages growth in the flu vaccine industry so the country will have a more stable vaccine supply in the future. (The flu vaccine for this year does not immunize against the H5N1 strain.)
  3. If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You may recover faster and you will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  4. If you take care of very small children or people with weakened immune systems, discuss with your physician more ways to help protect them from the flu.
  5. As for any emergency, be sure your family is prepared with an emergency kit and an emergency plan. Red Cross preparedness information may be helpful to you in putting together a kit and developing your family's plan.

"Avian flu has not yet reached the shores of the United States and the current flu is a bird virus that does not easily make humans ill. Even so, it is vitally important that we update our antiquated vaccination system in anticipation of flu in general," added Rep. Gordon.

"Every year approximately 36,000 people die from flu and more than 200,000 are hospitalized. Research and development that results from the momentum of Avian flu preparedness will have widespread benefits to help ensure that this country is ready for a wide array of biological emergencies - natural or man-made, intentional or not." said Rep. Gordon.

Pillars of the National Strategy
  1. Preparedness and Communications
  • Working with multilateral health and regional organizations
  • Produce and stockpile vaccine
  • Encourage and subsidize anti-viral medicine stockpile
  • Encourage facilities for vaccine and anti-viral production within the United States
  • Advance scientific knowledge and accelerate development of vaccines, antivirals, adjuvants and diagnostics
  1. Surveillance and Detection
  • Ensure rapid reporting of outbreaks both domestically and internationally
  • Use Surveillance to limit spread
  1. Response and Containment
  • Work to prevent a pandemic flu strain from reaching our shores
  • Provide guidance for range of options for infection control and containment, including social distancing, limiting gatherings and quarantine authority
  • Sustain national infrastructures, essential services and the economy

Emergency Budget Proposal
$7.1 billion

$6.242 billion

to stockpile vaccines and antiviral medications and accelerate development of new vaccine technologies

$251 million

to detect and contain outbreaks before they spread around the world

$644 million

to ensure Federal, state and local government and communities are prepared for pandemic outbreak
Funding by Agency

$6.7 billion

Department of Health and Human Services

$91.7 million

Department of Agriculture

$130 million

Department of Defense

$47.3 million

Department of Homeland Security

$11.6 million

Department of the Interior

$38.5 million

Department of State

$27.0 million

Department of Veterans Affairs

$131.5 million

International Assistance Programs

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