Mayor and Health Commissioner: Burlington Will Take the Lead in Pandemic Preparedness

For Immediate Release: Sept. 15, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss and Vermont Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, MD, will host a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 16 — National 'Get Ready' Day — on the park-side steps of City Hall at 11 a.m., to call on Burlington leaders and residents to take the lead in preparing for an extreme emergency such as pandemic flu.

Burlington is one of only nine U.S. communities selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to serve as a pandemic influenza preparedness community as part of a national campaign — Take the Lead: Working Together to Prepare Now. The purpose of Take the Lead is to encourage as many Americans as possible to understand that the threat of a pandemic influenza is real, and to actively engage them in personal preparedness.

“Burlington can strengthen its ability to respond to pandemic influenza by coming together and preparing well in advance of an emergency,” said Mayor Kiss. “Because of our relatively small size and strong community, we have the opportunity to be a model for larger cities as they also deal with planning for a pandemic flu.”

About 50 key leaders in the public and private sector from Chittenden County met in Burlington for the first time to discuss Take the Lead on April 11, including Gov. Jim Douglas and state health and public safety officials. The key message from health officials is that a pandemic is not a question of “if” but a question of “when” — and that government alone can't prepare the nation for a pandemic.

Pandemic flu is a global outbreak of a new and severe strain of the influenza for which people have little to no immunity, and for which there will be no vaccine available for some time.

Vermont was among the hardest hit states in New England during the 1918 pandemic. This was an event of such proportion that the state was unable to spare any doctors or nurses to help neighboring states, despite an urgent call for help from Massachusetts Acting Gov. Calvin Coolidge to Vermont Gov. Horace F. Graham.

The 1918 pandemic swept across Vermont so fast that it caught health officials by surprise.

“We don’t want to ever be caught off guard,” said Commissioner Davis. “We are the first generation of Vermonters who can take the lead in preparing for a pandemic — and Burlington area leaders have been doing just that. As part of the Take the Lead campaign, we are asking business, faith, civic and health care leaders to encourage residents to take simple actions to get ready — and we will be sharing our success stories with other communities.”

Health leaders have identified three essential and simple ways for people to prepare:

The other eight Take the Lead communities are: San Diego, CA; Wilmington, DE.; Savannah, GA; St. Louis, MO; Tuscarawas County, OH; Ft. Yates, ND/Sisseton, SD; Cache County, UT; and Seattle, WA.

“There is a part for everyone in Burlington and the region in preparing for a pandemic — from stockpiling necessities to adopting good public health habits,” said Mayor Kiss. “It’s important that we work together to be as prepared as possible.”

About Take the Lead

This year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a national pandemic preparedness campaign to communicate to as many Americans as possible that the threat of a pandemic influenza is real, and to encourage active engagement in personal preparedness. Take the Lead is a multi-faceted communications campaign that works with leaders from the business, civic/community, faith and health care sectors across the nation to provide them with simple tools they can use to educate Americans on ways to protect themselves and their families.

Easy-to-use planning and educational tools are available from HHS and CDC that anyone can use to help encourage people to prepare for a possible pandemic. Checklists, newsletter and email templates, event ideas, health tips, and other tools are available for download at www.healthvermont.gov and http://www.pandemicflu.gov/takethelead/.

About Pandemic Flu

In the 20th century, three influenza pandemics were responsible for more than 50 million deaths worldwide and almost a million deaths in the United States. The most severe of the past century’s pandemics, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, overwhelmed the United States and caused the deaths of about 675,000 Americans. If a flu pandemic of similar severity occurred today, 90 million Americans could become ill, and nearly 2 million Americans might die. Past influenza pandemics have lead to: high levels of illness; death; disruption in normal, everyday activities like going to school, work, or other public gatherings; and economic loss.

Unlike seasonal flu outbreaks, an influenza pandemic occurs when a new flu virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. A pandemic is a global disease outbreak that strikes suddenly and can sweep across the country and around the world in a very short time.

For more information on the campaign, visit the Vermont Department of Health web site at: healthvermont.gov, then select pandemic flu.

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