April 26, 2009
White House Briefing: Swine Flu
Q I notice that you’re not recommending that people, even if they’re ill, become vaccinated. Has the President been vaccinated by Tamiflu or Relenza? And at what level does this have to get before we go from a public health emergency to a federal pandemic plan?
DR. BESSER: I wanted to clarify a couple things you said. Oseltamivir and zanamavir are not vaccines. Those are antiviral drugs that can be used to treat somebody who is ill.
One of the points I didn’t make before is that if someone is ill with flu-like symptoms, in particular if they’ve traveled to an area that’s been involved, they need to contact their doctor and determine what type testing and treatment is indicated.
At this point there is not a vaccine for this swine flu strain. It’s a new strain of influenza. And so what we’re talking about is whether it’s warranted at this point to move toward manufacturing a vaccine.
Q Two questions. First, I want to know if the public health emergency declaration allows the federal government to invoke any kind of quarantine powers. And if so, how would that be used? And second, we’ve been hearing for years that we could have another 1918-like pandemic. So based on what you know right now, how likely is it that this could be a very, very severe outbreak?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: The public health declaration does not, in and of itself, convey quarantine authority. And most quarantine authority is held at the local and state level, and we’re nowhere near that sort of a decision. The decisions that have been made to date are the common-sense ones, the few places where we’ve had a U.S. outbreak, to close a school here, close a school there. But most quarantine authority is held at the state and local level. And this declaration does not, in and of itself, provide that.
DR. BESSER: The other part of your question had to do with 1918 and what we’re seeing here. One of the very important issues that we’re looking at is how severe is this outbreak that’s taking place. What we’re seeing in this country so far is not anywhere near the severity of what we’re hearing about in Mexico, and we need to understand that.
It’s also important to recognize that there have been enormous efforts going on around the country and around the world for pandemic preparedness and that our detection of this strain in the United States really came out as part of that. There was work going on in San Diego in terms of developing a point of care test kit, something that could be used in doctors’ offices, that detected a strain they couldn’t identify, and that was identified in our laboratories as the swine flu strain. And so that — really some of the preparedness activities, the laboratory capability that we have now is not what it was five years ago, let alone in 1918. We understand a lot about how flu should be managed and treated.