On Pandemics & Public Health Emergencies
Charles Krauthammer focused his life in politics, but he began his career as a medical doctor and often brought his medical expertise to bear on the public health issues of the day. He received his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1975 and went on to serve as chief resident in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He co-discovered Secondary Mania, a form of bipolar disease, and directed psychiatric research at the National Institute of Mental Health during the Carter administration. Though he stopped practicing medicine after moving to a career in journalism, he maintained his medical license and board certification for the rest of his life.
Noting missteps in the Centers for Disease Control’s response, Krauthammer wrote, “In the face of a uniquely dangerous threat, we Americans have trouble recalibrating our traditional (and laudable) devotion to individual rights and civil liberties. That is the fundamental reason we’ve been so slow in getting serious about Ebola.” A pandemic, he said, raises questions about America’s devotion to privacy and about our resistance to quarantines, to evacuation and relocation of infected patients, and to travel bans.
Lessons from the Ebola Outbreak (2014)
If [the ebola outbreak] becomes like the flu of 1918, it's because of that remote possibility, which we don't even speak about because it is sort of impossible to imagine, that we want to make sure that it stays in West Africa, and deploying the military and all of our resources is a good thing to do. It's humanitarian and it's protective.
In the face of a uniquely dangerous threat, we Americans have trouble recalibrating our traditional (and laudable) devotion to individual rights and civil liberties. That is the fundamental reason we’ve been so slow in getting serious about Ebola....
Quarantine is the ultimate violation of civil liberties. Having committed no crime, having done no wrong, you are sentenced to house arrest or banishment. It’s unfair. It’s, well, un-American. But when an epidemic threatens, we do it because we must....
President Obama, in his messianic period, declared that choosing between security and liberty was a false choice. On the contrary. It is the eternal dilemma of every free society. Politics is the very process of finding some equilibrium between these two competing values.
Lessons from the Spanish Flu (1918) and Bird Flu (2005)
We have brought back to life an agent of near-biblical destruction. It killed more people in six months than were killed in the four years of World War I. It killed more humans than any other disease of similar duration in the history of the world, says Alfred W. Crosby, who wrote a history of the 1918 pandemic. And, notes New Scientist magazine, when the re-created virus was given to mice in heavily quarantined laboratories in Atlanta, it killed the mice more quickly than any other flu virus ever tested....
We are essentially in a life-or-death race with the bird flu. Can we figure out how to preempt it before it figures out how to evolve into a transmittable form with 1918 lethality that will decimate humanity? To run that race we need the genetic sequence universally known -- not just to inform and guide but to galvanize new research.
Lessons from Smallpox Threats (2002)
People today have almost no experience with, and therefore no immunity to, the virus. We are nearly as virgin a population as the Native Americans who were wiped out by the various deadly pathogens brought over by Europeans....
When what is at stake is the survival of the country, personal and family calculation must yield to national interest. And a population fully protected from smallpox is a supreme national interest.
If it is determined that the enemy really has smallpox and might use it, we should vaccinate everyone. We haven't been called upon to do very much for the country since Sept. 11. We can and should do this.
Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks (2001)
We need an articulate and credible doctor as the government's single official spokesman on the bio-weapons war front. It could be the surgeon general, or perhaps Dr. Anthony Fauci who runs the infectious disease section of the NIH. During the AIDS years, Fauci spoke clearly and reassuringly to an epidemic that was far more mysterious and widespread than anthrax is today. Have him brief the press and the nation. Every day. Same time. The way Gens. Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf did during the Gulf War. He knows medicine. He knows government. And with his experience with AIDS, he understands the psychology of hysteria....
And one more thing. Get your flu shot. Now. When flu season hits, tens of thousands of Americans are going to show up in emergency rooms thinking they have anthrax. The entire health care system will grind to a halt as alarm, safety precautions, moon suits and a zillion tests clog up the system.
It takes two weeks for a flu shot to give immunity. Get yours now, and spare our country your sniffles and coughs for the rest of the winter. Last year's flu shot was an individual convenience. This year's is a civic duty.