As the new Acting Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (PHPR), I am excited to reach out to you. Long before disasters strike, our partners work tirelessly to ensure that communities have the resources they need to respond to public health threats. Partnerships remain a critical part of PHPR’s success, which is to advance our nation’s health security through improved public health exchange, integration, and delivery.
I am honored to carry on the PHPR commitment to health security and am determined to strengthen our current partnerships and forge new ones aligned to PHPR’s mission. If we leverage one another’s strengths before, during, and after a public health emergency, our ability to support communities greatly expands. I value partnerships and will share an experience illustrating my approach to preparedness.
Working for CDC for the past 16 years, I have been fortunate to have collaborated with PHPR staff and our partners through several public health challenges. These include the responses to Hurricane Katrina, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the 2013 H7N9 influenza outbreak in China, and the first cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the United States. My experience during the H1N1 influenza pandemic underscores the power of partnerships.
In April 2009, a novel influenza A virus, later known as 2009 H1N1, was identified in two children in California, and shortly thereafter, on May 4, the second US death associated with 2009 H1N1 occurred in a previously healthy pregnant woman. A year before, we had worked to prepare for this scenario. Because data had suggested that pregnant women would be at increased risk during a future influenza pandemic, we had convened a meeting of experts and partners in April of 2008 to obtain input on recommendations for pregnant women during a future pandemic. The results of this meeting were used to guide our pandemic response. Throughout the pandemic, we worked closely with national maternal and child health partner organizations to spread the word of these guidelines to pregnant women and their healthcare providers. Our messages were simple: pregnant women suspected of having 2009 H1N1 influenza should be promptly treated with antiviral medication and all pregnant women should receive both the seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccines.
Together with partners, CDC coordinated a joint letter in August of 2009, which was sent to CDC partners and the memberships of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Medical Association. The letter reached tens of thousands of clinicians responsible for vaccinating pregnant and postpartum women. Due to the collaboration between CDC and our partners, this outreach tool, one of many, was effective in improving the influenza vaccination rates for pregnant women.
My personal goal is to work with our partners to discover more solutions and implement additional strategies to protect the health of America's families, particularly those most vulnerable during a public health emergency. I look forward to working with each of you.
Sonja A. Rasmussen, MD, MS
Acting Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention