The Government Shutdown Will Affect Public Health for Years To Come

A new report highlights what long-term impacts the federal shutdown will have on public health research and disease tracking.

The government shutdown lasted for a little more than two weeks (Oct. 1st through the 16th) and although two weeks may not seem like all that long, public health experts say that it was enough to do damage that will last much longer than the shutdown itself.

Public health jobs, like food inspection services at the FDA, disease and flu tracking at the CDC, and other public health programs did not exist during those two long weeks. And according to a new report by the American Public Health Association (APHA), the U.S. should expect “an enormous long-term impact on federal public health research at agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.”

“Research isn’t something you can just stop and pick up again later,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA. “So valuable experiments were lost, valuable experiments were interrupted, and in some cases we’ll be able to pick those experiments back up again, but time is lost and money was wasted.”

According to the report even the flu vaccine was impacted:

Flu vaccine manufacturers were unable to get Food and Drug Administration approval for vaccines during the shutdown, meaning Americans can expect “significant delays” in vaccine distribution, said Mary Woolley, MA, CEO of Research!America. The ability to track new diseases and ones preventable by vaccines, such as the measles, could also be affected in the long term, she said.

“The long-term health effects of suspended surveillance for the flu and other emerging diseases will come to light over time, and people will ask ‘Why did we get so far behind? Why did we miss those outbreaks?’” Woolley told The Nation’s Health. “It’s easy to predict those situations, but impossible to go back now.”

Jerry Farrell, the executive director of the Commissioned Officers Association of the United States Public Health Service, told The Nation’s Health that it’s difficult to say what the exact long-term impact will be, but the shutdown made him more aware of the fragility of the nation’s public health system.

“I don’t know how the government advertises and markets itself to new prospective employees if they’re going to be told from the get-go that their job is not really that important,” Farrell told The Nation’s Health. “I think that’s a huge mistake for our government to make.”