Friday, February 9, 2007

Pandemic Panic

Amidst the hoopla over the Gardasil (HPV/cervical cancer) vaccine this week, one news item largely overlooked concerned OSHA and the CDC issuing more pandemic flu guidelines. In the event of a severe pandemic, children would be largely quarantined; no school, no daycare, no spreading the nasty little, I mean, flu viruses...until the pandemic started to abate.

By itself, that sounds prudent. Past studies have shown children to be the principal "vectors" for spreading the flu. Interrupt transmission by keeping them away from each other.

I'm curious if anyone on the federal level has considered the economic consequences of this. As a med school professor used to say, "if this is true, what does this imply?"

No school or day care means teachers and day care workers out of work, possibly for as long as 2 months. Parents will need to take off work themselves to care for their children. And parents' employers will no longer be able to function. Even if we prevent the flu from causing widespread death (which is very optimistic), the US economy would basically crash.

Has our government considered how they would bail out millions of small businesses? Pay for massive unemployment benefits? Would public employees still be paid?

On a personal level, what will happen to healthcare? Will I basically shut down my pediatric office for 2 months? Will I temporarily confine my practice to check-ups and children without fever or respiratory symptoms? Will I only allow one child in the office at a time? Will I leave my office to staff the ER? Note that none of these options leave me with a financially viable practice. After Katrina, I don't have any more financial reserves. A two-month shut-down--or even a slow-down--would most likely cause me to go under without state and federal assistance.

The devastation from Katrina will be repeated, but this time on a national scale. I'm not talking about the physical destruction; I'm referring to the economic fallout. The fact that we have still failed to address the Katrina recovery makes me very, very scared that pandemic flu would be far, far worse.

Have a nice day. >:)


mumkeepingsane said...

Have a nice day. Gee, thanks for the uplifting post. *grin* Kidding, I have said for a while now that this is a contingency that needs to be prepared for immediately. I'm lucky that I'm home with my kids but I've always wondered what my husband would do. Go to work anyway and risk killing us all? Stay home and suffer financial ruin and what....maybe starve?

Anonymous said...

Where I am, many parents would just have to continue to work and make other arrangements with overcrowded unlicensed daycares and family members. It might actually make the situation worse. At least licensed daycares and schools have protocols for exclusion and appropriate hand washing.

Roux said...

The sky is falling and we're all gonna die.

Anonymous said...

While the medical response to pandemic flu will be important to controlling its spread and limiting its toll, there are considerable non-medical issues related to flu preparedness that are essential for ensuring the continued well-being of the nation's economy. Planning for Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) is critical to maintaining the overall viability of society. Thus, while we rightly prepare for the flu, we must be equally prepared to function during the flu.

The Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the DOD's National Defense University has prepared a number of freely-available items which can help civilians be prepared both before and during the flu. "Bird Flu and You" is a poster available in 9 languages with basic information about influenza preparedness. "Weathering the Storm" is a report with information about planning for COOP, including instructions for carrying out "tabletop exercises" with a COOP plan.

Electronic copies of the poster are available at Electronic copies of the report are available at, and to request hard copies of the report, contact the Life Sciences group at

Robert E. Armstrong, Ph.D.
Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D.

Center for Technology and National Security Policy
National Defense University
Washington, DC

These views are those of the authors, and not the official views of the U.S. National Defense University, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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