BETHESDA – President Bush on Tuesday announced a $7 billion national pandemic preparedness plan that outlined three main goals — outbreak surveillance, vaccine and drug stockpiling, and public-private cooperation — paving the way for states to update their own plans.
“By preparing now, we can give our citizens some peace of mind knowing that our nation is ready to act at the first sign of danger, and that we have the plans in place to prevent and, if necessary, withstand an influenza pandemic,” said Bush to a packed audience at the National Institutes of Health campus.
Among those present were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
Maryland health officials were anticipating the release of the national preparedness plan so they could modify their plan.
Maryland’s plan is in its fifth version, and was last updated in April 2002.
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials said they needed to review the national plan before they could comment.
There is no influenza pandemic, but the increased prevalence of the avian flu virus H5N1 — which has killed millions of domestic and wild birds and a small number of people who have come in contact with them — makes it a cause for concern should it develop the capability to transmit from human to human. According to a Nov. 1, 2005, World Health Organization report there have been 122 confirmed human cases of avian flu and 62 deaths.
The last three major pandemics — the Spanish flu in 1918, the Asian flu in 1957 and the Hong Kong flu in 1968 — were caused by an avian flu virus. According to the CDC, more than 500,000 Americans were killed during these pandemics. An estimated 89,000 to 207,000 deaths could occur if a medium-level pandemic, uncontrolled by vaccines or drugs, were to strike the nation.
“There is no pandemic flu in our country or in the world at this time, 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,” said Bush.
Bush also mentioned that the severe acute respiratory syndrome that struck worldwide in 2003 gave a “preview” of the type of damage that a pandemic can cause. Within a month, an infected doctor carried the SARS virus out of China, spreading it to Vietnam, Singapore, Canada and eventually more than two dozen countries. It infected 8,098 people and killed 774 people before being contained six months later.
“A global influenza pandemic that infects millions and lasts from one to three years could be far worse,” said Bush.
Bush asked Congress for $7 billion in emergency funds, which would cover $251 million for outbreak detection and containment, $2.8 billion for cell-culture vaccine technology, $800 million for new treatment and vaccine development, $1.5 billion for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense to purchase the current H5N1 vaccine being developed at NIH, $1 billion to stockpile antiviral medicines and $644 million for better government coordination, of which $100 million would be allocated to state officials to complete and examine their state pandemic preparedness plans.
Bush also announced the launch of a new Web site — called pandemicflu.org — featuring state plans and flu planning for citizens.
Dr. Jeffrey Levi, senior policy adviser of the nonprofit health advocacy group Trust for America’s Health commended the administration’s efforts, but found the plan lacking in some details.
“It’s a huge step forward. This demonstrates how serious the administration is taking the pandemic flu threat,” he said. “However, some significant gaps remain.”
Levi pointed out that states are expected to pick up the tab for a significant portion of antivirals medications — 31 million out of the 75 million doses — creating, he said, a $510 million unfunded mandate.
Levi also said state contingency planning and health care facility surge capacity, improved diagnostics and reagents and risk communication were not funded in this request — a total of $475 million.