The true test for Texas is what comes after Ebola

With the first U.S. case of Ebola diagnosed last week in Texas, we must acknowledge a stark reality: Infectious threats are merely an airline ticket away. Because of our global connectivity, an epidemic anywhere poses a risk everywhere.  

If the virus had to arrive on U.S. soil, however, in some ways Texas was the best place. Our state is on the front lines of disease prevention and containment, and we’re well equipped for the challenge.  

Under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leadership from state public health authorities, nearly every major Texas hospital has been preparing for Ebola. Our state’s strong public health and medical infrastructure will greatly reduce the possibility of further disease transmission. State and local agencies play the most critical role: developing and implementing the proper protocols for disease identification, tracking and containment — and Texas has done just that. That’s why the Dallas case isn’t cause for panic.

But an interconnected world also means resilience must extend beyond our own borders. In addition to state and local planning, preparedness requires clear and decisive leadership from the federal government, including the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Defense departments. Most importantly, engaged leadership from the White House is essential in encouraging disparate and often competing federal agencies to respond quickly and seek and longer-term solutions.

In addition to public health precautions to prevent the spread of disease and medical support for those stricken, we must also push for more federal action in the development of targeted vaccines and therapeutics. Since there is no consistent market for countermeasures against emerging infectious diseases, the federal government must actively solicit and fund product development in these areas. Funding from Congress must be sufficient and consistent, but more importantly, it must be targeted toward developing new therapies and vaccines that are more ready for deployment than those currently in development for Ebola. For the next outbreak — and there will be one — we must insist that therapies be ready for delivery anywhere in the United States, or potentially the world. The timelines for containment of a serious outbreak mandate that we be fully prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Fortunately, infrastructure is already in place for emergency manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics at large scale. The best example of this capability was initiated by state funding to Texas A&M University and has been substantially advanced by the Department of Health and Human Services’ awarding of a national Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM) to Texas A&M. 

Now, Texas is spurring new innovation to answer the toughest challenges facing global health security and public health preparedness. The Texas A&M CIADM, one of only three such centers in the nation and the only one led by an academic institution, is tasked with providing the nation with 50 million doses of influenza vaccine in the event of a flu pandemic. The center also must maintain technologies and expert staff to manufacture products against other diseases, including Ebola, when called upon by the federal government. In fact, the A&M center has been actively engaged by national authorities in preparation for an order to produce Ebola candidate therapies — and given the current Dallas situation, we’re hopeful that such an order will soon be received.

The Texas-based CIADM is not only unique because of its rapid, efficient and cost-effective production capabilities, but it also leverages the expertise of a renowned research university and health science center, as well as numerous institutions throughout Texas.

To assure that our state is fully prepared to address emerging infectious disease challenges, Gov. Rick Perry on Monday announced the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which will evaluate and strengthen the state’s preparedness for public health threats. I will lead the task force, which will include public health experts, epidemiologists and state agency leaders who would be involved in the response to an outbreak or related event. Once the current Ebola situation is fully resolved, the task force will lead development of an infectious disease preparedness plan for Texas. 

With academic experts in public health, medical training and emergency management, Texas can lead the nation in public health preparedness and response efforts to make a significant impact on global health security. But we can’t do it alone. 

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M University System are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Brett P. Giroir

CEO of the Texas A&M Health Science Center