Why we’re not prepared for a flu pandemic

Monday, December 26, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Leslie E. Gerwin

Just as Americans are staring down flu season, Hong Kong grabbed headlines this week with news confirming that a chicken was infected with the H5N1 virus and that many more suspected of harboring the dangerous disease were slaughtered.
In the recent movie “Contagion”, Hollywood’s version of a pandemic, the government successfully executes a response plan. But our real-life encounter with a pandemic, the H1N1 flu, raises serious questions of whether the American public is prepared for such a crisis.
It should have been good news that the H1N1 epidemic we confronted in 2009-10 was less deadly than feared, but instead, it was used as political leverage. Conservatives, in particular, claimed the vaccination recommendations were overhyped, more “big government” meddling in citizens’ lives.

What’s worse, many media outlets highlighted the critical narrative while minimizing strong evidence that the government handled the threat quite well under the difficult circumstances. This occurred as opinion polls revealed the public’s growing lack of confidence in government officials and institutions, which are now at record levels.

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