“We have worked closely with manufacturers of the three approved antiviral drugs to find out how much product they have and whether there will be any shortages,” Patel said. “Last year, we had issues with the vaccine, and we started seeing a spike in drug usage. We set up a call center and worked with manufacturers to ship supplies where they were needed.”
Last winter, the flu vaccine was only about 13 percent effective compared with the normal 50 to 60 percent success rate, resulting in a high demand for medications to treat the disease. CDC officials expect this year’s vaccine to work better and, because of the efforts of Patel and others, the supply of antiviral drugs is expected to be sufficient. A system is in place once again to provide assistance if shortages occur in various locales.
Patel’s work on this issue is just one part of her portfolio, which more broadly includes providing scientific, regulatory and technical assistance to the Strategic National Stockpile, the government repository that stores more than $6 billion of pharmaceuticals, biologics and medical supplies needed for public health emergencies.
During the Ebola crisis last year, for example, Patel played a pivotal role in making sure there were sufficient quantities of personal protective equipment that doctors, nurses, environmental specialists and lab workers could use to guard themselves from the deadly disease.
As the crisis was unfolding, the demand for protective equipment was at an all-time high and market availability was spotty for products such as impermeable gowns and coveralls, and for disposable respirators and ventilators.
“We worked with hospitals that needed protective equipment,” said Patel. “We had a 24/7 operation. We had contacts with distributors and manufacturers to let them know when a hospital had a suspect case and quickly needed protective equipment. When we got a call, even late at night, we could get the equipment sent within 12 to 24 hours. People were so grateful because they were able to protect their health-care workers.”
Patel has provided critical input and direction regarding the availability of antiviral drugs for the treatment of the flu and for the distribution of protective equipment during last year’s Ebola crisis, said Lisa Koonin, the acting director of CDC’s Influenza Coordination Unit.
“Anita is an expert on medical countermeasures,” Koonin said. “She is both practical and creative, and she is passionate and committed to her work.”
After more than a decade in the field, Patel said she fully understands the issues and the intricacies involved in preparing for public health emergencies and ensuring medications and medical supplies are available. She said her experience has put her “in position to bring about change” and to “take things to the next level by working with the private sector and the public health community to share information and come up with strong solutions.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.