Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt today signed an agreement that the state and federal government will work together to plan for a pandemic influenza outbreak. They signed the agreement at a summit on Iowa’s planning and response to a potential pandemic. Leavitt says this is the ninth of the 50 state summits he’ll attend and says the next step is conducting exercises to test the plan. He says there’s a big difference in having a plan and being prepared. Leavitt says, “Once you being to exercise, it demonstrates your weaknesses. And when you see your weaknesses, then you can then fix them. So we’re anxious to get to the next step to exercise our plans and refining them.”
Leavitt says the federal government is also working to increase its capacity to make the flu vaccine. He says, “We have a vaccine, that’s good. But we don’t have the capacity to manufacture it in sufficient quantity and narrow enough time frames that it will do the good we aspire to do.” He says they’re also working to develop a state-by-state antiviral strategy, update their stockpiles and increase the level of technology to diagnose and monitor people.
The federal government estimates 90-million Americans and up to one million Iowans could be impacted if a flu pandemic struck. Leavitt says preparation is the best way for the U.S. to meet the challenge. Leavitt says, “People are rightly concerned about this. Are we prepared? Noone in the world is prepared right now for a global pandemic. We are better prepared today than we were yesterday.” He says the job is to continue to see that we are better prepared each day.
Leavitt says while the pandemic is a concern — we’re in the best position every to deal with it. He says we have the opportunity to be the first generation in human history to be prepared for a pandemic. Leavitt says we can’t avoid a pandemic, as they’ve happened in the past and will happen in the future. He says,”We can go a significant ways in being able to moderate or mitigate the impact it will have adversely.” Leavitt credits Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack with taking the lead in preparing the state for a possible pandemic.
Vilsack says Iowa has been planning this at the state level for two years. Vilsack says what Leavitt has underscored is that the state and federal government can’t do all the planning. Vilsack says the planning and exercising has to be comprehensive and involve the business community, nonprofit agencies and health care providers in a meaningful way.
Vilsack says even though Iowa has been planning, we can’t afford to rest on what they’ve done. He says it is an ongoing process and he doesn’t know if the state will ever have it perfected. “But what people need to know is that we are taking this very seriously. We understand that strong communities require protection of the citizens,” Vilsack says. Vilsack says there is still some confusion as to what the federal government will provide to help fund the planning process. Vilsack says signing the agreement with the federal government opens the lines of communications to discuss things like the funding.