USA: A pandemic killing tens of millions of people is a real possibility - and we are not prepared for it

Source(s): Vox Media Inc.

By Ron Klain

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One hundred years later, it is the prospect of another such pandemic — not a nuclear war, or a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster — that poses the greatest risk of a massive casualty event in the United States. The scope of the danger is breathtaking: Bill Gates, citing epidemiologists, has said that there is a “reasonable probability” of a pandemic that kills more than 30 million people worldwide in the next two decades. A tabletop exercise run at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in May simulated a global flu-like outbreak called Clade X and found that 150 million people (including 15 million in the US) would die in the first year alone.

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1) Improve vaccine development and deployment

Even for the world’s best scientists, predicting which diseases should be prioritized is hard. I attended a conference in the runup to the formation of CEPI where scientists discussed a “top 10” list. Just a few months later, Zika — not even on the list — was a huge threat.

Moreover, inventing vaccines doesn’t save lives; vaccinating people does. Even if scientists discover promising vaccines for infectious diseases threats, the world predominantly relies on private vaccine makers to bring those vaccines to market, which is not always a certainty. (Large vaccine makers felt burned spending millions on developing an Ebola vaccine in 2014 that will never yield profits.)

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2) Strengthen US epidemic preparation and response

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An outbreak of even just a few dozen cases of a deadly, highly infectious disease — let alone a few hundred — would overwhelm any city in our country. In such a scenario, death would beget death, as patients carrying the virus would stream into hospitals and infect others who did not yet have the disease.

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3) Bolster global response capabilities

It would shock most people to know that there is no elite squadron of fully equipped global epidemic responders ready to be deployed when the alarm sounds. As I often said during the Ebola epidemic, the thing that should scare people is not that the black helicopters will be landing in their backyards any minute now — it’s that there are no black helicopters coming, even if you need them.

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