WASHINGTON – The partial shutdown of the federal government may be over, but the health effects are likely to linger.
The most immediate problem is related to the timing of the shutdown – right at the traditional start of flu season.
Flu surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was sharply curtailed. While the states were submitting data as usual, there were only a few essential employees present to compile the numbers and connect the dots.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says the CDC employees on the job weren’t able to look at all the data. He says that as returning workers begin to sort through the backlog, “We are hoping there isn’t anything that we missed that we should have been concerned about.”
Meanwhile, companies that make vaccines were having a tough time getting their products inspected during the shutdown. And Benjamin says that may result in fewer people getting flu shots before flu season shifts into high gear.
Those are short-term effects. But the shutdown may also have a long-term impact on scientific research.
Benjamin says, “You don’t take a multi-million dollar experiment that you are right in the middle of, push the pause button and then push the restart button.”
He says many research projects just don’t have the money to start all over again, and they are scrambling for a solution.
Benjamin also worries that the best and brightest researchers may now think twice about working for the government, and opt instead for the private sector.
“Most people stay in their job because they like the work,” he says, “and, you know, when you have a job where you are not sure if you are going to get paid from day to day, you may very well consider not staying.”
He indicates the constant political battles on Capitol Hill, combined with the realities of sequestration and shutdowns, may take a toll.
“We know we are going to go through all this all over again after the beginning of the new year,” he says, “and so there could be people who might consider how they have to reconsider their research projects knowing that they may get stopped again.”