Van Hipp: Containing coronavirus -- key steps to take right now to get ahead of the outbreak

The coronavirus has now claimed its first American life. President Trump assured Americans from the White House on Saturday that there is "no reason to panic" as he announced expanded travel restrictions for Iran, South Korea and Italy over the virus.

The very possibility of a pandemic increases every day, however. In fact, the respected open-source intelligence (OSINT) firm IA Analytica now predicts, with an 89 percent probability, that it will soon be declared a global pandemic.

Fortunately, American science, innovativeness and ingenuity is a good defense. Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with and get to know a number of our best scientists, virologists, bio-threat experts and emergency preparedness and response professionals. These are men and women I know and trust. They are patriots and many are military doctors who are all about doing what must be done in a crisis situation to save lives today. Over the years, and yes, a good bit this past week, we've discussed how to deal with the type of situation we are currently facing. Here are some of those key specific steps we can take right now to get ahead of the coronavirus, contain it and save American lives

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Pre-manufactured antibody

The capability exists to have a pre-manufactured antibody to provide immediate protection to first responders, people recently infected and those with underlying health issues who are highly susceptible to infection -- those with diabetes and COPD. This can be done rapidly and provide protection until a vaccine is ready. Vaccines take one to three months after administration to show efficacy. Antibodies are immediate and provide protection over a four-month period. 

Universal vaccine

A vaccine is still many months off and even when produced will only be good for a single virus strain. Dr. David Gangemi is a noted virologist who formerly worked at Fort Detrick Biosafety Level (BSL) 4 facility and was referred to as "our friend in the box" in the book " Hot Zone"  as a result of spending 53 days under quarantine in an isolation chamber. Gangemi is a huge believer in universal vaccines and states, "We need universal vaccines which can protect against multiple strains of coronavirus."

Rapid blood test for those entering the United States

Anyone coming into the United States should take a rapid blood test for the coronavirus. Again, this capability, just like the antibodies, exists and can be ready in short order. Scientists just need coronavirus blood samples. According to Dr. Ray Mernaugh, former professor at Vanderbilt Medical School, “A rapid, accurate, and simple screening test is badly needed." He further notes that "simple temperature testing as a screening method at the border overlooks those who have the virus, but no symptoms, as well as those who know they have symptoms and take measures to lower their temperature."

Bring back the U.S. Army's Aeromedical Isolation Team

From the 1970s to 2010, the Aeromedical Isolation Team (AIT), which was part of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), was a military rapid-response medical team that could be anywhere in the world in 24 hours, had a Biosafety Level-4 capability and focused on the most infectious diseases and patients. The AIT was actually loosely portrayed in the movie "Outbreak." Doing away with it was a terrible decision. It's time for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army to bring it back.

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Real-Time Tracking

There are easy and scalable ways to crowdsource, map and share real-time data with medical professionals throughout the country. An agency like CDC, NIH or even the DHS could then monitor newly reported incidents from medical providers for analysis, verification and response. 

Bring back President Bush's Transformational Medical Technology Initiative (TMTI)

This was a bold initiative under the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) by President George W. Bush. It greatly reduced the time from when new diseases and biological pathogens were discovered until we had an effective countermeasure. It was a great model that worked and greatly improved our biomedical defenses. It's time to bring it back.

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Military doctors must be more involved

Military physicians and scientists are all about saving lives today. They prepare and train for situations like this and are best equipped to help effectively lead the fight. President Trump's decision to tap Vice President Pence to head America's response team was a good one. It shows how serious the administration is taking this threat. It's critical that our top military medical experts at DTRA, USMARIID and other defense medical entities have a seat at the table. 

Closer working relationship with HHS and DoD for medical training and fielding

This is something I advocated for in my book, "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." It is imperative that HHS, including the CDC and NIH, be more engaged with DoD, especially from a medical training and fielding perspective. Military medicine has a great reputation for making things happen and happen quickly. The HHS and the civilian population will greatly benefit from a closer working relationship with the DoD in the event of a medical threat to the homeland. 

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A pandemic not only takes lives -- it disrupts lives and can have long-lasting repercussions. My grandmother was an orphan at the age of two as a result of losing both her mother and father to the last real pandemic to hit America: the 1918 Spanish Flu. It wasn't the first wave that killed my great-grandparents. It was the second strain, after the virus had mutated, that hit the rural south of America hard.

America was not prepared for the pandemic that hit us during my grandmother's youth. Fortunately, today, we've come a long way and have the best science, medical professionals and emergency response capability in the world. We can get ahead of the coronavirus and contain it if we employ American ingenuity and innovativeness the right way and let our world-class military infectious disease physicians and scientists lead the charge.

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