Subjects: Public health
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last week that she had ordered a complete review of the Feds’ ability to respond to emerging public health threats, bioterrorism and the like.
The news was prompted by the uneven performance of the government’s swine flu vaccination program, which began delivering serious quantities of the jab right around the time the second wave of the outbreak began to subside.
“We’ll look for new technologies that will let us quickly produce countermeasures that are more dependable and more robust,” Sebelius told the AMA’s Third National Congress on Health System Readiness.
“Not just for flu and infectious diseases, but for all the public health threats we face.”
“Today, we face a wider range of public health threats than ever before in our history,” Sebelius told the crowd. “It could be anthrax delivered in an envelope. It could be a dirty bomb in a subway car. It could be a new strain of flu.”
“The countermeasure that saves the day during a quick-hitting public health emergency can take years to discover, develop, manufacture and distribute,” Sebelius continued. “We’ve often failed to make the kind of long-term investments in countermeasures that we need to stay safe.”
Referring to the H1N1 vaccine, which was produced far more slowly than officials predicted, Sebelius said “we were fighting (it) with vaccine technology from the 1950s…there was nothing we could do if vaccine grew slowly in eggs.
We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we (then) wouldn’t have as much control as if they were based in the US.”
Sebelius did point to some progress in this regard. She mentioned a new facility in Holly Springs, N.C. that can produce flu vaccine from cells in lieu of eggs, for example. That facility is being run by Novartis, which received nearly $400 million in seed funding from the Feds.