Preparing for a Bird Flu Pandemic
Bird flu has now captured the attention of the news. While I’m generally not one to become overly concerned with armaggedon scenarios, a flu pandemic strikes me as a particularly realistic and frightening possibility. Pandemics occur periodically, and the experts all seem to be extremely concerned.
I believe that it is important to view this as a national security issue. National security has become almost synonymous with the protection against terrorism, and we assess the success and failure of government officials in keeping us secure primarily with terrorism in mind. But national security should also be understood as the ability to prevent and respond to natural disasters and outbreaks of disease. The destruction terrorists might cause is often small when compared to what nature can do. According to Newsweek:
According to the intelligence document, the World Health Organization is warning that if a pandemic outbreak occurs, “as much as one-fifth of the world’s population could become ill, at least 30 million people worldwide could require hospitalization, and at least 2 million people could die.” According to the booklet, however, other experts “warn that far more could die, with some estimates as high as 180 million” in the event that a new pandemic virus is as potent as the “Spanish flu” virus which caused massive casualties in 1918.
By all news accounts, we’re not prepared to handle a pandemic. Part of the problem is the lack of a clear plan to address how to respond to such a disaster. Another problem is a shortage of bird flu vaccine. There are vaccines that might be effective against the bird flu. The problem with the vaccines, however, is that they must be made new each year, and if there is no outbreak, then the vaccine-makers are left with a huge financial loss. This problem might justify government subsidies for companies in making the vaccines. Alternatively, the government could provide a form of insurance against a vaccine-maker’s potentail losses, thus ameliorating the risk of unsold supplies of vaccine.
If you are interested in reading more about the issue, I have blogged many times previously about the importance of seeing a pandemic as a national security issue:
For good literary works about plagues and pandemics, I recommend: