We know that people are tired about reading about the H1N1 influenza virus, and hopefully, it is losing ground and will not be a worldwide pandemic.  In our articles “Pandemic Influenza”, and “Pandemic Influenza Part II”, we described what a pandemic is and how employers can best be prepared for one.  What about the country as a whole?

As was evidenced by the past threat, there was a negative effect on the stock market, travel industry, and entertainment industry, just to name a few.  In reviewing a message that was written November 10, 2005, by the Working Group on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, and sent to Senate and House Conferees on H.R. 3010 FY 2006, Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, one would think they were reading something that was written only yesterday.  It closed by stating that the “clock is ticking as the threat is growing”.

In 2005, funding was needed for the Avian Flu (H5N1) or Bird Flu.  Attempts for funding for pandemic outbreaks have been made ever since that year; requests for $870 million in extra funding was cut from a stimulus bill that passed earlier this year.  These funds would have gone a long way toward supporting state and local health departments’ preparedness, the Strategic National Stockpiles, vaccine research and production, gloves, and other required equipment.  Stockpiled vaccines should be equally proportioned to guarantee all states have the needed medicine.  Annual resources should be available to support ongoing state and local preparedness, not just at times of emergencies.

So far, we have not been put to the full test, but sooner or later, it is feared that there will be a strain that will be a full-blown pandemic and really get our attention.  As our workforces are being depleted by layoffs and cutbacks, will there be enough public health officials and healthcare workers to take care of the demands of a true pandemic?  It’s food for thought.