Utility workers, truckers, communications workers vital in pandemic: Study

These workers should get first crack at treatment along with health-care professionals and first responders

If a flu pandemic hits, utility workers, truck drivers and communication personnel will be as valuable in the ensuing crisis as nurses will be and should get top priority when it comes to receiving medical care, according to a new study.

Conventional thinking is that nurses, paramedics, firefighters, and those most at risk for contracting the illness should get first crack at vaccines and other treatment.

But other workers are just as crucial in helping society weather a pandemic and deserve first crack at treatment, said Nancy Kass, deputy director of public health at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study Rethinking Who Should be Considered 'Essential' During a Pandemic Flu Outbreak.

“Alongside health-care workers and first responders, priority should be given to the people who provide the public with basic essentials for good health and well-being, ranging from grocery store employees and communications personnel to truck drivers and utility workers,” said Kass.

The report provides ethical guidance for pandemic planning to ensure a skeletal infrastructure remains intact.

“When preparing for a severe pandemic flu it is crucial for leaders to recognize that if the public has limited or no access to food, water, sewage systems, fuel and communications, the secondary consequences may cause greater sickness, death and social breakdown than the virus itself,” said Kass.

Given the widespread and sustained nature of a pandemic, government assistance will be spread thin and local jurisdictions must develop their own preparedness plans to ensure they will be self sufficient, states the report. And businesses can help reduce the burden on local governments by developing their own response plans.

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