Are We Ready for the Next Pandemic?

Last week, I drove down to Peterborough to volunteer with the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. As a part of Emergency Preparedness week, they held the above event, which included presentations from the Health Unit and Emergency Management Ontario on what the County and Province have done to prepare for a pandemic.

My main motivation for going down was visiting some friends and family and taking a break from the mind numbing grind of applying for jobs, but it was a very educational day. If there’s one catchphrase I heard a lot this year, it was “It’s not if, but when,” and that sentiment was echoed many times last Thursday. The Medical Officer of Health explained how the flu mutates and pandemics evolve. Something really interesting I learned was that the flu spreads much faster to communities along the 401 because of travellers and commuters. Remind me to move to the middle of nowhere!

In all seriousness, one of the topics discussed was how immunizations are one of the most effective weapons against a pandemic. I’m terrible about getting my flu shot. I’m not overly afraid of needles but I never think it’s worth my time. The one time I got the shot was during H1N1 when the community centre I worked at was turned into an assessment centre. I remember so many people lining up for a shot, and I had to get it in order to keep working. Of course, two days later I got sick with the worst cold I’d ever had and was convinced I was dying of “swine flu” anyway. But I was able to return to work the next day, which was fortunate because helping set up the assessment centre was what made me realize that emergency management was a career and that it might just be perfect for me.

Pandemic planning has never been my favourite aspect of emergency management, but I’m convinced it’s probably one of the most important. While the province is relatively prepared for most of the strains, there are some that we have no idea about. H5N1 in particular has a high fatality rate and while it hasn’t mutated yet, it may only be a matter of time. I love how enthusiastic Peterborough is about EM and preparedness, and if you look at how the city responded to H1N1, I think it’s really paid off! Hopefully the rest of the province agrees.