We must prepare for the next possible pandemic
Not because a flu pandemic is going to happen (nobody knows!) but because we must be ready in case it does
I have a new essay in Foreign Affairs today on why we should prepare for a bird flu pandemic, and what steps the government should take to prepare. Use this link to bypass the paywall. Here are a few excerpts:
On the history of pandemic influenza preparedness
In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush stood at a lectern in Bethesda, Maryland, to make an important announcement. He was joined by five members of his cabinet, two senators, three congressmen, and multiple international guests. It was an unusual show of force for a press conference, and with two unpopular wars underway and the response to Hurricane Katrina still floundering, there was plenty else to attend to.
But it wasn’t a military conflict that commanded presidential attention. It wasn’t another hurricane or a terrorist attack. It was influenza.
On the current situation
Avian influenza, or H5N1, has been tearing through animals for over a year, spreading more widely than it ever has before. In the United States, H5N1 has been detected in more than 6,300 wild birds and in every state. Outbreaks in commercial flocks have been registered in 47 states, leading farmers to cull over 58 million birds. It has been found in American mammals, such as raccoons and harbor seals. And the number of affected birds and mammal species continues to grow.
On what we should do
The United States needs to make sure it is ready for such a pandemic—just in case it happens. It can start by updating evaluations of how likely H5N1 is to start spreading between humans and what effect such spread would have. It should identify and prepare emergency steps to control the virus, should it mutate. The country also needs to look at the existing vaccines it has for the avian flu to see if they are effective, and it must review its distribution plans. It has to restock whatever health supplies it burned through while fighting COVID-19. And it must communicate all these steps to the U.S. population. Otherwise, the United States risks finding itself mired in another catastrophic pandemic.
Read all about it over at Foreign Affairs.
And in case you missed it, you can also catch me in (the second half of) the New York Times’ limited run newsletter, The Next Pandemic. I’ll be answering reader questions over there for a few weeks.
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I am grateful for the information. It is reliable, accurate and easy to understand.
Thank you for the link to your article in Foreign Affairs. It was excellent. I only hope that it attracts the attention that we need!