crossposted to The Next Hurrah

Regular readers of TNH [and Daily Kos] will note a familiar theme on page one of the Washington Post:

World Not Set To Deal With Flu

    Public health officials preparing to battle what they view as an inevitable influenza pandemic say the world lacks the medical weapons to fight the disease effectively, and will not have them anytime soon.

    Public health specialists and manufacturers are working frantically to develop vaccines, drugs, strategies for quarantining and treating the ill, and plans for international cooperation, but these efforts will take years. Meanwhile, the most dangerous strain of influenza to appear in decades — the H5N1 “bird flu” in Asia — is showing up in new populations of birds, and occasionally people, almost by the month, global health officials say.

It in Russian birds, now. And that, btw, means Europe.

The public, conditioned to believe in the power of modern medicine, has heard little of how poorly prepared the world is to confront a flu pandemic, which is an epidemic that strikes several continents simultaneously and infects a substantial portion of the population.

Since the current wave of avian flu began sweeping through poultry in Southeast Asia more than 18 months ago, international and U.S. health authorities have been warning of the danger and trying to mobilize. Research on vaccines has accelerated, efforts to build up drug supplies are underway, and discussions take place regularly on developing a coordinated global response.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will spend $419 million in pandemic planning this year. The National Institutes of Health’s influenza research budget has quintupled in the past five years.

    “The secretary or the chief of staff — we have a discussion about flu almost every day,” said Bruce Gellin, head of HHS’s National Vaccine Program Office. This week, a committee is scheduled to deliver to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt an updated plan for confronting a pandemic.

The plan? Rationing. We won’t have enough vaccine in time and we won’t have enough antivirals because we did not pay enough attention to the problem two years ago. This government is too interested in important problems like abstinence and eliminating Social Security. And lower taxes? How is lower taxes going to save your butt when we’re confronted with a world-wide pandemic? Should we threaten H5N1 with market forces?

Watch for some high level political resignations at CDC in vain hope of getting the agency back on track. Smallpox we’re worried about? Puleeeze.

Other measures would go well beyond the conventional boundaries of public health: restricting international travel, shutting down transit systems or nationalizing supplies of critical medical equipment, such as surgical masks.

But Osterholm argues that such measures would fall far short. He predicts that a pandemic would cause widespread shutdowns of factories, transportation and other essential industries. To prepare, he says, authorities should identify and stockpile a list of perhaps 100 crucial products and resources that are essential to keep society functioning until the pandemic recedes and the survivors go back to work.

We need Presidential leadership yesterday on this, not next month. Oh, but the Crawford vacation is coming, isn’t it? Let’s do something really important like appoint John Bolton to the UN, and let the alarmists worry about half a billion worldwide dying from bird flu. Hey, most of them don’t vote Republican, anyway.

This WaPo article hits the key points. Check it out, and check out Flu Wiki, an activist’s response to do-it-yourself planning.

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