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Govt.: More progress needed in influenza prevention


WASHINGTON U.S. states and territories have made progress toward planning for an influenza pandemic, but major gaps remain, according to a federal assessment released Thursday.

"The results of this assessment provide a broad-brush picture of strengths and weaknesses across various aspects of pandemic preparedness," stated William Raub, Health and Human Services science advisor to the secretary.

The report shows that, on the whole, states and territories have accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time. The results also indicate that much remains to be done to become prepared as a nation. State operating plans scored best in protecting citizens. The plans showed no or few major gaps in addressing mass vaccination operations during each phase of pandemic, ensuring surveillance and laboratory capability during each phase of a pandemic, in acquiring and distributing medical countermeasures and in ensuring communication capability.

All state plans did not address or showed major gaps sustaining operations of state agencies, and supporting and protecting state government workers so that the state government could continue to function during an influenza pandemic.

The report noted that continuity of operations for all state agencies merits significant attention if substantial socio-economic disruptions are to be avoided during an influenza pandemic. "Even the best plans can fail if managers cannot accommodate the significant absenteeism and disruptions in supporting services and supplies that an influenza pandemic is almost certain to produce," HHS stated in a press release.

The Department of Health and Human Services also on Thursday announced a $487 million multiple-year contract with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics to build the first U.S. facility to manufacture cell-based vaccine for seasonal and pandemic flu‹representing an effort to help fortify preparations against an influenza pandemic.

"Today we are taking an important step in our ongoing commitment to pandemic preparedness," stated Robin Robinson, director of the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which will oversee the contract. "In a pandemic we would need vaccine ready within six months."

That's why the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza set domestic surge capacity as a goal in preparing the nation for a pandemic. That goal could not be accomplished using the traditional egg-based method of producing flu vaccine. Because cell-based influenza vaccine can be made faster and in greater quantities than traditional vaccine, the new facility is expected to increase the U.S. capacity to make pandemic influenza vaccine by at least 25%.

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