Let's Work Together
The Public Health Preparedness Summit, held at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta last week, brought together experts in public health and shed light on lessons learned during the H1N1 pandemic. The summit opened with strong statements from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who spoke about the H1N1 pandemic.
“The flu is still circulating and is still a deadly disease,” she told the audience.
Sebelius also acknowledged that there are improvements to be made in preparedness strategies for public health emergencies, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and technology as factors of success. She called for investments in technologies to improve vaccine production. An investigation is currently being conducted into current vaccine technologies, led by Dr. Nicole Currie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response with the HHS.
In addition to the nuts and bolts of pandemic response, Sebelius recognized the importance of collaboration in addressing emergencies. She outlined the new partnerships that were forged between public health officials and education, business, and medical industries.
Public health officials coordinated their messaging with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This may have led to the higher rates of H1N1 vaccination than usual rates of seasonal influenza vaccination among pregnant women.
Sebelius was joined by panelists Carter Mecher, Director of Medical Preparedness Policy for the White House; Stephen Redd, Director of the Influenza Coordination Unit with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Paul Halverson, President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); and Bruce Dart, President of NACCHO.
All panelists brought their own perspectives on themes of humility, communication, and collaboration as useful tools to building a successful response. Dart said the pandemic reminded us that “no one agency can work alone.” The sharing of resources, data, and communication assisted health departments at the local, county, and state level to work together with federal agencies to quickly adjust to unexpected changes in the course of the virus.
H1N1 Finds a Place in History
On Wednesday, John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, brought his own perspective on the lessons learned during the response to H1N1. His presentation brought to light the mistakes that had been made, while giving the 2009 pandemic a historical context. “If this pandemic had occurred in 1909, you would not have heard about it,” said Barry.
According to Barry, some things just did not work in addressing the spread of H1N1. For example, in Mexico masks were distributed as a preventative measure but not usually worn. Barry also questioned the continuing production of seasonal vaccine along with H1N1 vaccine because it may have slowed down the production of the latter. Federal agencies made promises to the public, based on what they had been told by vaccine manufacturers, that could not be fulfilled.
“We are back where we started, but we may have lost some public faith in our communication because of what happened,” said Barry. “One benefit [is that] you have essentially just gone through a drill.”
This week, the H1N1 blog will continue to look back on the summit and what we learned. Were you at this year's Public Health Preparedness Summit? Did you learn anything that surprised you or changed your perspective on the H1N1 pandemic?