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WETA and "PBS NewsHour" Examine H1N1 Flu Virus and Governments' Response to Health Crises

"Anatomy of a Pandemic" Special Explores Front Lines of Outbreak and Historical Context of Response, Airs December 14 on PBS

WASHINGTON, D.C. — WETA Washington, D.C., the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital, and “PBS NewsHour,” one of the most trusted news programs in television, are partnering for “Anatomy of a Pandemic”, a television special and on-going digital media initiative about the overarching human dimension of a pandemic’s impact on modern society and the science and history of these health crises, in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic.  Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for “PBS NewsHour”, will report for the special.  The sixty-minute program airs December 14, 2009 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide.  (Check local listings.)  The production will follow the pandemic on the ground, sifting through all of the conflicting information with the authority of leading experts and policy makers.  Final program details will be available closer to broadcast; all details herein are subject to change.

“Anatomy of a Pandemic” will carefully examine the major issues surrounding the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus outbreak, commonly referred to as “swine flu”, using the current pandemic to explore best practices for the U.S. and other world governments when faced with any widespread health emergency.  Suarez will report from the front lines of the effort to combat this outbreak — from federal vaccination headquarters and state command and control centers to big city hospital emergency rooms where the first waves of serious cases will appear.  The program will contextualize the current outbreak with pandemics of the past, including the 1918 influenza pandemic that caused between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide and a 1976 government-mandated vaccine program that was shut down due to dangerous side effects.  “Anatomy of a Pandemic” will focus as well on the science of influenza, including the development and implementation of the current H1N1 vaccine, next generation vaccine techniques, and the quest to create a potential universal vaccine.

2009 H1N1 is a new influenza virus with over a million cases worldwide so far.  The disease came to worldwide attention with a serious outbreak in Mexico City in March 2009; in April 2009, this new contagious virus was first detected in people in the United States; on June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that a pandemic of 2009 H1N1 flu was underway.  At the time of this release, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 41 states have reported geographically widespread influenza activity and there have been more than 5,300 H1N1-related fatalities worldwide, more than 1,000 of those in the Unites States.  “Anatomy of a Pandemic” will explore our country’s readiness in face of a widespread deadly pandemic, whether our emergency and intensive care systems are robust enough to handle a significant health crisis and what we can we do now and in the future to become better prepared to meet the challenges of pandemics.  The special will also probe the social and economic consequences of a major outbreak, from closed borders and the impact on business travel and tourism, to the social implications of vaccine shortage and suspension of production of vital medicines produced overseas.  Throughout, viewers will be given the most up-to-date, reliable and objective information on the status of the outbreak and what they should know to protect themselves and their families.

Experts involved with “Anatomy of a Pandemic” include leading U.S. influenza officials from the CDC and other health organizations, writers and historians.  Among those specialists are the following individuals (subject to change):

•    Dr. Michael Osterholm, world-renown influenza expert and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota;
•    John Barry, the prize-winning and New York Times best-selling author of The Great Influenza, a study of the 1918 pandemic;
•    Dr. Jay C. Butler, the Director of the CDC  H1N1 Vaccine Task Force;
•    Dr. Nancy J. Cox, the Director of the CDC Influenza Division;
•    Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation (LIR);
•    Dr. Wayne Marasco, a universal vaccine specialist and associate professor with the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and associate professor in Cancer Immunology and AIDS with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute;
•    Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD);
•    and Dr. David Sencer, a former director of the CDC who forced to resign after the failure of the 1976 vaccine campaign.

“Anatomy of a Pandemic” is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C., “PBS NewsHour” and Production Group Inc.  The executive producers are Dalton Delan and Jeff Bieber.  The producer, director and writer is Larry Klein.  The co-producer and co-writer is Mark Olshaker.  The program correspondent is Ray Suarez.  The editor of the Online NewsHour is Lee Banville.  Funding for “Anatomy of a Pandemic” is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The program website for “Anatomy of a Pandemic” will be a coproduction with the Online NewsHour at pbs.org/newshour.  Among the content featured there will be the ongoing H1N1-related reporting from “PBS NewsHour”, full video and additional interviews from the documentary, resources for further health information and user-generated audio interview programs with experts from the documentary and health care experts in the field.  An electronic press kit, including downloadable photos for promotional use and biographical information about key experts, is available at pressroom.pbs.org.

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television.  WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “America at a Crossroads,” “The Kennedy Center Presents,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including his most recent series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  Sharon Percy Rockefeller is the president and CEO of WETA.  More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.

CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 and is steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.  It helps support the operations of more than 1,100 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

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Kate Kelly
kkelly@weta.org

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