As the world grows smaller, warmer, and wetter, governments need to have an organizational blueprint about how to best respond to infectious disease outbreaks, according to researchers writing in the journal Science.
Written by biostatistician Dr. M. Elizabeth Halloran of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, and Dr. Ira Longini, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine,the article outlines how policymakers and health care workers can use epidemiological methods, statistics, mathematics and models of how well vaccination campaigns work to respond to new, unexpected outbreaks.
“Human connectivity is getting more and more complete. Through jet travel, we can move viruses very quickly,” Dr. Longini said. “Viruses can get transported out of previously isolated populations in Africa or other parts of the world within days now instead of years.”
Although the paper was written well before the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the article addresses that kind of situation. Infectious diseases such as Ebola, for which there is not yet a vaccine or effective treatment, will be a challenge, Dr. Longini said.
“We really don’t know how to control these diseases. We don’t have vaccines, antivirals, antibacterials, or whatever is needed to do what we need to do when we don’t know what the next big pandemic threat will be,” Dr. Longini said. “This paper gives a blueprint or roadmap of how to work efficiently in that kind of environment.”
The authors suggest creating mobile stockpiles of vaccines for diseases that have them, such as cholera. Statistical models based on other outbreaks — such as the 2010 outbreak of cholera in Haiti — can help inform policymakers and show health care professionals how to administer a vaccine campaign in an efficient and cost-effective way. For example, the researchers found when 60 percent of a population is vaccinated, nearly 100 percent of the population is protected against disease transmission.
The indirect effects of vaccinations are important, said the article’s lead author, Dr. Halloran.
“Taking indirect effects into account when looking at the cost/benefit of vaccination makes a big difference for developing countries that are needing to use some pretty expensive vaccines right now,” she said. “If you’re looking at some country that is relatively poor, then taking indirect effects into account could change the equation.”