The emergence of the H5N1 avian influenza virus (also known as "bird flu") has raised concerns that it or another virus might mutate into a virulent strain that could lead to an influenza pandemic. Experts predict that a severe pandemic could overwhelm the nation's health care system, requiring the rationing of limited resources. GAO was asked to provide information on the progress of the Department of Health and Human Services's (HHS) plans for responding to a pandemic, including analyzing how HHS plans to (1) use pharmaceutical interventions to treat infected individuals and protect the critical workforce and (2) use nonpharmaceutical interventions to slow the spread of disease. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed government documents and scientific literature, and interviewed HHS officials, state and local public health officials, and subject-matter experts on pandemic response.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Health and Human Services||1. To improve the nation's preparedness for a pandemic, the Secretary of HHS should expeditiously finalize guidance to assist state and local jurisdictions to determine how to effectively use limited supplies of antivirals and pre-pandemic vaccine in a pandemic, including prioritizing target groups for pre-pandemic vaccine.|