Norwich and Pandemic Influenza Planning

Fitting into the Larger Pandemic Planning Context
PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 0708-10
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Planning for a potential pandemic influenza event is a process being undertaken at all levels of government in states and international agencies throughout the world. Current concern about a potential pandemic stems from the "existence of an influenza virus of pandemic potential," namely a strand of Avian Influenza known as the H5N1 virus. Although the H5N1 virus has yet to spread rapidly from person-to-person, which would likely cause a pandemic, health experts believe that H5N1 could evolve and develop this ability. Furthermore, health experts warn that the emergence of a new strain of influenza to which the human population has little natural immunity could occur at any point. For these reasons, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report entitled "WHO: Global Influenza Preparedness Plan" which recommends that every state around the globe implement pandemic influenza preparedness plans. Additionally, the WHO report contains detailed recommendations as to how and in what sectors such planning should occur. Countries around the world have followed the advice of the WHO and are currently formulating or have already instituted pandemic influenza plans. The United States has heeded the WHO recommendations with vigor as federal agencies, state governments, local governments, and many private sector entities have all developed pandemic influenza plans.

When developing its own influenza preparedness plan, the town of Norwich should implement mechanisms put in place by previous plans made by the Vermont state government. Specifically, Norwich should use the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) plan entitled "Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan," which takes the guidelines presented in the WHO influenza report and alters them so they fit Vermont.

Norwich pandemic influenza preparation should fall into three main areas: 1) communication, 2) combative measures to be used during a pandemic, and 3) coordination with the private sector.

First, Norwich must implement a communications strategy that focuses on delivering one clear message about pandemic conditions to Norwich residents during a pandemic. Norwich town officials should coordinate with the VDH and other state agencies to plan a system through which state updates and additional information could be easily passed to Norwich officials, who could then disseminate this information at the local level using various communication media.

Additionally, Norwich must make preliminary plans to prepare the town to operate temporary clinics, quarantines, isolation facilities, and similar combative services if local health care facilities are overrun as a result of the pandemic. Such planning should cover basic logistics, such as where a clinic could be held and finding potential staffers.

Lastly, Norwich should bring local businesses into the planning process both to help the town in its own response and to help individual businesses formulate pandemic influenza response plans of their own. Overall, any and all planning for a potential pandemic influenza event should aim to limit the population affected by the virus, reduce mortality, reduce the spread of the virus, and reduce the economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic within Norwich.