The Department of Homeland Security’s motto is “Be ready.” Thanks to the work of Dr. Michael Washington, 35, our nation will be in the case of a bio-terrorist attack.
Before September 11, most cities would have had a limited idea of how to best respond to the outbreak of a lethal disease like smallpox. But ill-preparedness for unlikely scenarios is no longer an option. That is why the Centers for Disease Control called on one of its best, Dr. Washington, to develop a plan of response and the tools to help local public health officials plan, prepare and practice for a mass smallpox vaccination.
As a member of the National Immunization Program, Dr. Washington wrote a computer simulation model to help maximize the number of vaccinations that could be administered in a short time frame in the event of a pandemic smallpox outbreak. This model was used to develop the Maxi-Vac, software which has been distributed to state and local officials to assist in their preparations. He has also written models to game out the mass dispensing of drugs in case of the intentional or accidental release of hazardous agents, as well as software to plan for mass influenza vaccinations. And he has conducted workshops to help localities prepare for attacks involving vaccine preventable bioterrorism agents.
But Dr. Washington’s work is not limited to the area of emergency response. He has taken an active lead in public health initiatives both at home and abroad. He has done critical research revealing about $28 million in annual costs incurred when children are given more than the recommended dose of vaccine. And he has gauged the cost of vaccine waste due to spoilage, shortages and loss to be up to $31 million.
Overseas, he spent three months in Ghana, West Africa doing consulting work in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. There he helped train workers as they monitored polio, yellow fever, measles, neonatal tetanus and meningitis—five of Africa’s deadliest, yet preventable, diseases. He has also conducted similar training at the WHO Regional Office in New Delhi, India, focusing primarily on polio eradication.
And he has proven himself to be a prescient innovator in his field of expertise. He started development on an anthrax vaccination program in January 2001, almost a full year before the attacks on Capitol Hill and media outlets throughout the country. He has worked on vaccine forecasting, trying to find better ways to predict future vaccine needs. And he is currently working on ways improve health systems, as opposed to just health services. He understands that maximizing the effectiveness of service delivery at the actual clinics where vaccines are injected requires a holistic review going all the way back to the vaccine manufacturer and every step in the process to identify inefficiencies.
Based on his accomplishments, it is not surprising that the National Society of Professional Engineers has recognized him as one of the top 16 “New Faces in Engineering.” And with Dr. Washington on the job, we can be confident that no matter what challenge involving immunizations befalls our country, whether it involves a bio-terror attack or the mistreatment of U.S. children, we will live up to our national motto. We will be ready.