- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Bush-era secretary of Health and Human Services said his team had studied sealing off the Mexican border as a response to a possible pandemic, and concluded that it would be impractical, ineffective and economically ruinous.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the Bush administration conducted several studies and tests, and concluded that shutting down the border would have “serious consequences.”

“People jump to the conclusion, ‘Let’s shut the border down and maybe we can keep it out,’ ” Mr. Leavitt said. “It would require a substantial part of the military to logistically do it, and it would not just be airports, but buses and cars and people who walk across the borders, which are large and porous. And that just doesn’t work.”

He said in a phone interview that a virus such as the currently spreading H1N1 swine flu could spread unimpeded once in the U.S. and the best way to tackle such a virus would be to quickly develop and distribute a vaccine.

“It might seem like it would slow the virus down slightly, but we concluded it would not even do that,” Mr. Leavitt said.

The former HHS chief cautioned that major epidemics are not like other natural disasters such as hurricane, which strike once and thus have a clearly defined recovery period and set of needs.

“A pandemic has to be managed differently than any other disaster,” Mr. Leavitt said. “A pandemic will last 12 to 18 months and comes in two or three waves, so it has to be approached differently.”

“It’s like a wildfire, if you can catch it while it’s still smoking, you can contain it, but once it starts to spread it’s difficult to suppress, so the strategy is to keep the people and property out of its way,” Mr. Leavitt said.

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