Viewpoint: Global flu pandemic 'almost certainly on the horizon' — and the world is not prepared

Amid an ongoing influenza season poised to be more severe than usual, a public health scientist and a documentary filmmaker took to the opinion pages of The New York Times to warn of the world's lack of preparedness for addressing a possible flu pandemic.

In the op-ed, Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Mark Olshaker, a writer and documentary filmmaker, argued a flu pandemic, which occurs when a novel animal flu virus spreads among humans, is "almost certainly on the horizon." The threat of a pandemic is a challenge the global community is woefully unprepared to face, the authors said.

For historical context, the authors recounted the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, which resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people internationally. Despite advancements in medical technology, the world's large population and closer proximity to animals like poultry and pigs created an "influenza virus mutation factory." The authors argued a flu pandemic comparable to 1918's would alter the course of history similar to the way the bubonic plague did in the 14th century.

"We are not prepared," wrote the authors. "Our current vaccines are based on 1940s research. Deploying them against a severe global pandemic would be equivalent to trying to stop an advancing battle tank with a single rifle. Limited global manufacturing capacity combined with the five to six months it takes to make these vaccines mean many people would never even have a chance to be vaccinated. Little is being done to aggressively change this unacceptable situation. We will have worldwide flu pandemics. Only their severity is unknown."

Dr. Osterholm and Mr. Olshaker are the co-authors of the book "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs."

To read the full NYT op-ed, click here.

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