U.K. ahead of U.S. in pandemic planning

UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan

The United Kingdom released its second influenza pandemic contingency plan since March, while the United States still works to develop and release its plan to deal with the consequences of a massive outbreak of influenza.

The United States also lags behind the European Union in the use of surveillance systems to provide early warning of outbreaks that could lead to a pandemic. About 13,000 sentinel physicians in 25 countries, covering a population of 464 million, provide weekly reports to the EU’s European Influenza Surveillance Scheme (EISS). In contrast, in the United States, which has a population of 295 million, only 1,000 doctors provide weekly reports on flu-like symptoms, such as fevers, coughs and sore throats, to the U.S. Influenza Sentinel Providers Surveillance Network.

According to the updated U.K. pandemic contingency plan released Oct. 19, the country will improve its surveillance systems by increasing coverage and frequency of reporting from general practitioners. To do so, it will establish a case-based field information management system that links epidemiological and laboratory data and use a central Web portal to improve information collation. The United Kingdom will also use a real-time system to monitor vaccine efficiency.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the country’s chief medical officer, said yesterday that the U.K. plans to buy 120 million flu doses for its population of 60 million. “Planning to combat pandemic flu is our No. 1 priority," Donaldson said. "We regard pandemic flu as public health enemy No. 1, and we are on the march against it.”

The United States also lags behind the United Kingdom in the amount of vaccine it currently plans to have available to treat a pandemic. In September Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said HHS plans to buy enough vaccine to treat 20 million people and another 20 million doses of antiviral medicine to treat about 20 million more people.

The U.K. pandemic contingency plan anticipates widespread civil disruptions in the case of a pandemic and puts in place the means and structure to deal with those disruptions. The plan states that U.K. business and government organizations need to anticipate staff shortages caused by illness or quarantines and establish minimum staffing levels. They should also find ways to provide sleeping quarters for that staff.

The plan also states that the United Kingdom should prepared to ban international and domestic travel and mass gatherings, such as sports events. It should, however, plan to provide essential services, such as transportation, utilities, communications and food distribution.

The United Kingdom also has a detailed communications plan with the public to prevent panic, including updates on vaccine availability. It also calls for a coordinated effort by all ministries to deal with a pandemic.

The United States edged closer to developing a pandemic contingency plan earlier this moth when Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) introduced the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Act. The act would establish a national director of pandemic preparedness and response to develop and coordinate responses to a massive, viral flu outbreak in the U.S.

That bill calls for the development of an organizational structure and chain of command at federal and state levels to deal with a pandemic. That includes ensuring adequate supplies of vaccine, food, water and other essentials and maintaining essential public functions, such as utilities, transportation, communications and fire and police services.

The bill also calls for an expansion of U.S. disease surveillance systems and national electronic tracking of vaccines.


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