Having established pandemic preparedness plans and systems in place is a critical part of global health security. A lesson learned through the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that existing systems, capacities, knowledge, and tools can be leveraged and applied for certain types of pathogens. For example, the global community relied on laboratory networks, surveillance systems, vaccine effectiveness platforms, and other tools and resources that had been established for influenza and other pathogens to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To save lives in the next pandemic, the U.S. Government is committed to preparedness and response efforts, including the development of new medical countermeasures – vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics – and implementation of policies, procedures, trainings, exercises, and operational plans.
Influenza viruses are notable for their resilience and adaptability, which is why influenza remains an ever-present threat to global health and the most likely pathogen to cause the next pandemic. Influenza viruses circulate year-round and cause seasonal epidemics. Because influenza viruses continually circulate, changes in the genetic makeup of the virus require the reformulation of vaccines on an annual basis to protect against severe disease and mortality. Influenza pandemics happen when a new (novel) influenza A virus emerges that can infect people easily and spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way, and to which most of the world’s population do not have immunity.
New strains with pandemic potential continue to emerge, making national and global preparedness fundamental to protecting the health and well-being of Americans at home and abroad, safeguarding national health and economic security, and preventing disruptions to global health security and the global economy. The Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) has worked over the past 20 years to increase capacity for global pandemic response. HHS has developed and refined tools over this time to help guide different aspects of planning and response, including evaluating and assessing the pandemic risk posed by a novel influenza A virus, understanding the possible progression of the event, developing a pre-pandemic candidate vaccine viruses or vaccine, and evaluating the severity and transmissibility to enable informed public health interventions.
Planning and preparedness are critical to help reduce the impact of a pandemic. An influenza pandemic, whether of low, moderate, high, or very high severity, will place extraordinary and sustained demands on public health and health care systems and on providers of essential community services. Because influenza is a perennial threat, causing seasonal epidemics that require public health interventions, including annual influenza vaccinations, it provides the opportunity to continually practice and strengthen response and operational plans as well as vaccination programs across all ages to be better prepared in the event of an influenza pandemic.
The Office of Pandemics and Emerging Threats (PET) within the Office of Global Affairs leads HHS’s global diplomatic and policy engagement to prevent, detect, and respond to pandemic influenza. We coordinate with U.S. Government departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations, and global partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), on a range of policy and technical issues.
Federal Resources for Influenza Planning:
Global Resources for Influenza Planning and Response:
- Pandemic Influenza Risk Management: A WHO guide to inform and harmonize national and international pandemic preparedness and response
- WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework: A framework agreed to by WHO Member States to improve and strengthen the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential and to increase the access of developing countries to vaccines, diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals.
- Partnership for Influenza Vaccine Introduction (PIVI): A public-private program that collaborates with countries to strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines reliably and quickly to save lives.
Coronaviruses and Other Respiratory Diseases
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness in animals and humans. They often circulate among camels, cats, and bats, and can sometimes evolve and infect humans. Seven different types have been identified in people, many of which cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. However, three coronaviruses have caused more serious and fatal disease in people: SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which emerged in November 2002 and causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS); MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which emerged in 2012 and causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS); and SARS-CoV-2, which emerged in 2019 and causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Respiratory pathogens, particularly those that caused the most recent epidemics and pandemics, have, and will continue to pose a global threat with the potential to cause significant morbidity and mortality, overwhelm health systems, and destabilize the global economy. Strengthening the resilience of communities, sustaining and building on routine systems, and leveraging broader capacities for emergency preparedness and response is critical.
Zoonotic and Other Emerging Infectious Diseases
Emerging infectious diseases refer to outbreaks of previously unknown diseases or known diseases that are rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range. The emergence of zoonotic or other infectious diseases can, in many cases, be explained by specific factors ranging from increasing trade, travel, and migration to ecological changes, in part due to agricultural or economic development or to changes in climate.