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White House Unveils Flu Pandemic Plan

Local Communities and Individuals Bear Responsibility

'Important Milestone'

Michael T. Osterholm, MD, PhD, a sometime-critic of federal pandemic planning efforts, calls the blueprint "an important milestone." He tells WebMD that the document shows well-developed planning at "all levels" of government.

But he also warns that the plan leaves several key points unanswered, including whether businesses operating with thin "just-in-time" inventories will find ways to continue operating in a crisis environment lasting several months.

"I think we still have a ways to go on that," says Osterholm, who is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Osterholm is also associate director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the Department of Homeland Security.

Osterholm calls recommendations for social distancing at workplaces and in schools "a good idea," though he stressed that few practical methods short of vaccination are proved to slow or stop the spread of flu viruses. In the past Osterholm has warned that the antiviral drug Tamiflu, now being stockpiled by the federal government, may only have a partial effect on the virus.

"We don't know if they'll make a difference or not. We just don't know, and we have to be honest about that with the public," he tells WebMD.

Wednesday's plan is a second, revised version of the White House's readiness recommendations. The first was introduced last fall but altered for Wednesday's release. The Department of Health and Human Services has released its own public health preparedness plan.

Congressional critics have called the process too slow. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., criticized the White House for lagging in planning efforts while bird flu has spread in Asia for five years.

"The administration's preparations for avian flu have been in such prolonged disarray that they're releasing their third new plan this week," he said.

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