Good morning and thank you for joining me for this Pandemic Influenza Research Symposium dedicated to the memory and legacy of John R. LaMontagne. John was a giant in infectious disease and vaccine research. He made extraordinary contributions to the development of swine flu vaccine, the whooping cough vaccine and vaccines against childhood diarrheas and pneumonia. He was a dedicated public servant and mentor to many. In all of his work, John brought the human and public health dimensions to the efforts of his research. He served the nation and the world immeasurably well, and we are better for it.
I know for many of you, the memory of John and his quiet but tireless efforts to fight infectious diseases and to improve the health of people everywhere has brought you here to give of your time and intellectual efforts to advance his work. As you know, fighting influenza was one of John’s passions. He recognized influenza as a constant challenge to the health of our nation and the world and that the possibility of a pandemic outbreak related to new influenza strains, to which there is little immunity in the population, is as an ever-present threat. It is that threat that brings us here today to take stalk of where we are and where we need to be in order to be better prepared to respond when that threat becomes a reality.
Over the next two days you will discuss in the working groups the current state of the art of research on pandemic influenza and identify gaps in research on influenza virology, immunology, diagnostics, antiviral drugs, surveillance/transmission, vaccines and their production, and strategies to contain outbreaks and prevent spread. We are seeking in the workshops to develop and refine everyone’s best thinking on the most glaring research gaps for each topic and develop ideas for how to progress in closing those gaps in the short and long term. While we will not adopt any formal recommendations, we intend for each participant from the public or private sector to emerge with a clearer idea of the constructive roles they can play in influenza research and preparedness.
The success of this Symposium will rely upon candid, open discussions among the range of experts present. In this spirit, I would like to note that we are joined by a few members of the press who have continually followed the ongoing topic of pandemic flu preparations. Because we wish to encourage free and unfettered discussions throughout the symposium, we have stipulated that all remarks made during the plenary sessions and individual working groups must be considered on background only and not for quotation or attribution. Of course, any individual participant who wishes to engage in one-on-one interviews with reporters on the record may do so.
It is now my pleasure to introduce the Honorable Michael O. Leavitt Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.