Pandemic influenza: science to policy

20 November 2006

Influenza pandemics are caused by new influenza viruses that have adapted to replicate and spread efficiently in humans. The threat of a new pandemic resulting from infection with the widely distributed avian H5N1 viruses, although far from certain, has stimulated considerable work at both national and international levels in preparation for this possibility.

The Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences consider that planning and preparedness for a pandemic need to be informed by the best available scientific evidence at every level.  

Whilst the UK is better prepared than most countries in planning for pandemic influenza, there is scope to improve the extent to which scientific evidence is used in policymaking. The UK is recognised as one of the most prepared countries in the world however research in this area must continue and up-to-date scientific information should be central to the Government's decision making process.  

The joint report recommends the appointment of a specialist non-governmental scientific adviser to the Ministerial Committee of the Cabinet on Influenza Pandemic Planning to complement the roles of the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). We also recommend that the Department of Health's Pandemic Influenza Scientific Advisory Group becomes a cross-government Scientific Advisory Committee on pandemic influenza jointly chaired by the CMO and the CSA. The Committee's membership should be drawn directly from the scientific, veterinary, social science and medical communities as well as from the commercial sector. The report also makes specific recommendations in relation to the use of antiviral drugs and vaccinations in the face of an influenza pandemic, the collection and sharing of data and areas where further research is needed.  

It is essential that the increased capacity resulting from influenza pandemic preparedness within the UK should be applied to other infectious and zoonotic diseases wherever possible.