U.S. Has Never Been More Prepared To Face a ‘Challenge’ Such as the Current H1N1 Flu Emergency, Obama Official Testifies
Obama administration officials on Thursday during a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing laid out the administration's plans for addressing the recent public health emergency involving the H1N1 influenza virus, also known as swine flu, CQ HealthBeat reports.
During the hearing, FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein outlined how seven new "teams" of agency employees will address various aspects of dealing with the H1N1 virus. The teams include:
- A vaccine team to help manufacturers develop and test a new H1N1 vaccine;
- An antiviral team to identify treatments to prevent and treat H1N1-related illnesses;
- An in vitro diagnostics team to identify H1N1 tests;
- A personal protection team to ensure that health care workers have the necessary equipment to avoid contracting H1N1;
- A blood team to ensure the U.S. blood supply remains safe and plentiful;
- A shortage team to ensure that the U.S. stockpile of antiviral drugs is replenished and does not face a shortage; and
- A consumer protection team to ensure that people are not using scams involving "fraudulent and potentially dangerous medical products" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/30).
Although CDC currently is working on developing a vaccine for the H1N1 virus, the earliest date a vaccine would be available to the public is this fall, according to Craig Vanderwagen, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Until a strain-specific vaccine can be developed, the federal government has purchased additional doses of antiviral drugs to add to the nation's stockpile, Schuchat said.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "We should not wait for public health emergencies to come up with ad hoc responses," adding that some 35,000 U.S. residents die annually of seasonal flu. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) said, "That number could be readily reduced with better vaccination programs and public education efforts" (Lee, CongressDaily, 4/30).
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said that "it's very reassuring to members of Congress to get the feeling that we, indeed, are prepared. The remarks that we heard (from) Dr. Sharfstein, of course, just add to that." He added that he hoped the additional $1.5 billion in funding the Obama administration is seeking to address the public health emergency would be returned to the taxpayers if it is not spent in its entirety (CQ HealthBeat, 4/30).
Administration Officials Participate in Webcast
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and acting CDC Administrator Richard Besser on Thursday participated in an hour-long webcast during which they answered e-mailed questions regarding the H1N1 public health emergency, Kansas Health Institute News reports.
During the webcast, Sebelius said that while it is always helpful to maintain a food supply in one's home, "we're certainly not recommending that people rush out and stockpile food and water." Napolitano also said that people should not change or cancel their travel plans. Besser said that college students living in close quarters should be extra careful and take precautions to avoid contracting the virus.
Sebelius said that all official decisions, including school closings and possible border closures, are being determined not out of fear but out of fact. She said, "What we're trying to do is let the science drive the protocol." None of the officials denied that the recent emergency is serious. However, Sebelius noted that as of Thursday, CDC confirmed 109 cases of U.S. residents with the H1N1 virus, compared with about 36,000 U.S. residents who die annually from seasonal flu. She said, "We need to keep this in perspective," adding, "We don't know how serious this (the H1N1 outbreak) is going to be" (McLean, KHI News, 4/30).
The Washington Post on Friday examined how the Obama administration has been relying on strategies developed under former President George W. Bush's administration to address the current public health emergency (Wilson/Hsu, Washington Post, 5/1).
The webcast is available online.
State, Local Efforts
Besser on Thursday said that there is more than one way for public health officials to disseminate information related to the H1N1 virus, the Post reports. He said, "The actions will vary by community, and that's a good thing," adding, "We'll learn from that what things are more effective and what things are not a good use of resources."
While some schools have closed and others have canceled activities, Besser said that one universal effort is to avoid panic. He said, "I know people are concerned and some people are afraid," and "it's important that we do what we can to take those concerns and fears and channel them into personal action and personal planning" (Brown/Stein, Washington Post, 5/1).
The Post on Friday examined how more than two dozen states do not have a large enough stockpile of antiviral drugs should the current H1N1 public health emergency reach pandemic levels (Kindy, Washington Post, 5/1).