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When George W Bush predicted a global pandemic 16 years ago

Former United States President George W Bush presented a plan to protect his country from a global pandemic like Coronavirus 16 years ago. Today, his words appear prophetic.

When George W Bush predicted a global pandemic 16 years ago-VPN
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Washington D.C., First Published Jun 17, 2021, 5:58 PM IST
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In 2005, then United States President George W Bush gave a speech at the National Institutes of Health where he talked about pandemics and how important it was for his country to have a prepared plan of action in case one occurred.

Ironically, he presented a plan to protect his country from a global pandemic like Coronavirus that now appears prophetic.

 

His motivation and idea for devising a national strategy came from a book he read while he was on vacation. The book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry spoke intensively about the Spanish flu. The influenza pandemic in 1918 is considered to be one of the deadliest pandemics in history, one that claimed the lives of an estimated 100 million people all across the world. 

The book prompted Bush to talk to high-level officials and propose a plan about future pandemics. He told his top homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, about the book in great detail and told her, "Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy."

The effort was initiated and what followed was one of the most comprehensive pandemic plans known as the 'Early, Targeted, Layered Use of Nonpharmaceutical Interventions' which had initially started research in 2003 but was formally adopted as a policy by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February 2007. 

Large parts of the plan were not realized or shelved and put away due to other imminent crises that the country faced. The updated version was published in April 2017. 

According to Bush's aides, many of them, at the time, were doubtful. But the September 11 attacks and the anthrax mail attacks made them realize the unpredictability of the world and backed the idea.

In his 2005 speech, Bush talked about the nature of a pandemic in great detail and the importance of not just supplies but also vaccine production, 

In his speech, Bush compared a pandemic to a forest fire that might be extinguished with limited damage if caught early. 

If allowed to smoulder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond the ability to control it, he said. 

He also said that in order to respond to a pandemic, adequate supplies of equipment and medical personnel were needed. 

He foresaw how in a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply.

He also talked about the need for medical capabilities. 

Bush said that if a pandemic were to strike, United States must have a surge capacity in place that will allow it to bring a new vaccine online quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain.

The speech given by Bush echoed many of the concerns we face now in the current Coronavirus pandemic, from the shortage of medical supplies like ventilators, masks and hospital facilities to the delayed responses in locking down and social distancing measure by many countries and their governments. 

The original protocol adopted by the CDC was a result of five years of work by a small team which aimed at using a variety of social distancing measures as well timely lockdowns for schools and offices; the official goals of which were to reduce the impact of the disease, suffering, and death; and sustain infrastructure and lessen the impact on the economy and the functioning of society.

The protocol also had a Pandemic Severity Index, which would have suggested different levels of measures for different severities of pandemics and illness and would have placed the current pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 or Coronavirus pandemic, at the fourth or fifth tier, which are the highest tiers in the index. 

Another incident that amplified Bush's concerns was a vaccine contamination disaster in 2004 at a manufacturing plant in Liverpool and, according to an official, caused the United States to use up half their seasonal flu supply overnight. 

It also highlighted the fact that the United States was completely reliant on just two producers of flu vaccine. 

The US reported 34 million cases and more than 600,000 deaths, with India in second place and Brazil in third. Worldwide the pandemic has claimed more than 3 million deaths (3,849,768) and the total cases exceed 177 million (177,842,616).

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