5 Steps We Should Take to Prepare for Next Pandemic : Former CDC Director
The former director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted the federal government will once again find itself racing to come up with a vaccine and respond to a health pandemic in the near future because it has repeatedly ditched those efforts after getting through previous outbreaks.
“Animal infections jumping to humans and more are going to happen, and others have not been dealt with in the past,” former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding testified before the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday.
“This is not a one-off situation. This is going to be our new reality, and we need to upgrade the investment that we’re making in the front lines of public health.” Gerberding is a pharmaceutical industry executive, working as executive vice president for Merck & Co., Inc.
During the MERS, Zika, dengue, Ebola, and H1N1 outbreaks, the government surged resources to come up with a vaccine, as well as prepare and respond to the epidemic within the United States. Congress was quick to fund emergency efforts, but as soon as they were deemed under control or cases dropped, so did the efforts to come up with long-term solutions, said Gerberding. She said U.S. efforts to come up with vaccines died off after several of those outbreaks, and the country does not have a vaccine if they made a return.
“Policymakers increasingly recognize these threats can undermine the social, economic, and political security of nations,” said Gerberding.
“Unfortunately, this recognition occurs when a health crisis strikes … and U.S. policymakers rush to allocate resources in response. Yet, all too often, when the crisis fades and public attention subsides, urgency morphs into complacency. Investments dry up, attention shifts, and a false sense of security takes hold. That realization led us to conclude that the U.S. government needs to break the cycle of crisis and complacency and replace it with a doctrine that can guarantee continuous prevention, protection, and resilience.”
The former CDC head is the co-chairwoman of the Center for Strategic International Studies’s Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security. She outlined five steps the government needs to take if it wants to boost its response to the next pandemic.
1. Prepare vaccines for future epidemics
Because infectious diseases that originated in animals are not new and are expected to continue popping up, the U.S. ought to “incentivize” research for vaccines so that if a similar strain is transmitted to humans, a solution already exists.
“The current antibiotic market is broken; if Congress does not act to ensure that antibiotics are valued appropriately, we will continue to see small biotechnology companies declaring bankruptcy and large pharmaceutical manufacturers exiting this arena,” Gerberding said.
2. Add health officials back to White House National Security Council
Gerberding said the National Security Council is missing critical leaders who are experts on health issues, including global health security and biodefense policy.
“Strong, coherent, senior-level leadership at the NSC is essential to guarantee effective oversight of global health security and biodefense policy and spending, speed and rigor in decision-making, and reliable White House engagement and coordination when dangerous pandemics inevitably strike,” she said.
3. Consistently fund health efforts overseas
The U.S. can prevent outbreaks from making it here by choosing to invest in low-income countries on a consistent, long-term basis, Gerberding said. She urged for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to be expanded to include more countries so that they have health systems up and running ahead of a future pandemic. She asked for continued funding of the Pentagon’s overseas research on infectious diseases.
The U.S. should also boost contingency funding for the CDC and the U.S. Agency for International Development, contribute annually to the World Health Organization’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, and commence a five-year challenge with the World Bank to promote long-term investments in low- and mid-income countries.
4. Create a national agency to oversee the U.S. health crisis response
A new government agency is needed, Gerberding said, to work on behalf of the CDC and USAID with local governments and organizations at the early stages of infectious disease epidemics. The government should also have plans in place for how it will bring federal resources to people in low-income or rural areas.
“This means ensuring the continuity of immunization programs, the protection against and response to gender-based violence, and the strengthening of the delivery of maternal and reproductive health and family planning assistance,” she said.
5. Get on the same page with nongovernmental organizations
The government agencies working together amid the coronavirus outbreak should proactively establish partnerships and plans with private sector groups, as well as invest in those organizations so they can work on technological solutions for preparing and responding to a health crisis. The U.S. should specifically invest in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global group that finances and works on developing vaccines.