Friday, October 14, 2005

Worried about Bird Flu? Maybe we should be...

Laura Rozen picked up on a Knight Ridder story by Jonathan Landay that looked at preparedness in the face of a potential pandemic.
"People at the White House are now ... starting to recognize ... that this country is not prepared," said Jerry Hauer, who directed HHS emergency preparedness for two years until he quit in 2004, charging that his superiors were foot-dragging on the avian flu threat.

Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman, denied that the department had been slow. He said that its experts have been digesting "thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands" of public comments on the draft plan.

He declined, however, to confirm any details of the blueprint.

Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, said Washington should be treating preparedness "more like a Manhattan Project," the crash atomic-bomb development program of World War II.

A number of other countries are ahead of the United States in preparedness. Britain finalized its plan in March, has created a Cabinet-level coordinating office, ordered enough Tamiflu for 25 percent of its population and put in place a system for rapidly producing and distributing a vaccine once one is developed.

Critics complain that the Bush administration has ordered only enough Tamiflu to cover less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, despite a 2000 recommendation by the U.N. World Health Organization that governments cover at least 25 percent.

Swiss-based Hoffmann-LaRoche, the sole maker of Tamiflu, says that with 25 other countries ahead of it, the United States must wait until the end of 2007 to buy enough of the drug to cover 25 percent of its population.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America says even that isn't enough; it wants HHS to stockpile enough Tamiflu to treat 50 percent of the U.S. public.
As Rozen points out, this is not a case of confronting unknowns, its simply a case where the U.S. simply hasn't done the necessary work. Epidemiologists and health care experts have been warning the country for years about Bird Flu, and it appears nothing has really been done.

Given the relative state of unpreparedness, what does it say about the government's ability to deal with a biological attack?

Oh, remember the President's comment about the need for greater executive powers to help ease the establishment of military quarantine zones (read "martial law")?
Many experts dismissed Bush's suggestion that the military could be used to impose quarantines, saying it was inappropriate and probably useless to count on soldiers to use force against sick Americans going out for food or medicine.
This of course has been on the move since Katrina(scroll to the bottom):
Bush began discussing the possibility of changing the law banning the military from participating in police-type activity last month, in the aftermath of the government's sluggish response to civil unrest following Hurricane Katrina.

Last month, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "wants to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina," including the use of the military in "a severe, catastrophic-type event."

"The Department of Defense would assume the responsibility for the situation, and come in with an overwhelming amount of resources and assets, to help stabilize the situation," McClellan said.
Whatever happened to the billions that were poured into the Department of Homeland Security to deal with exactly these issues? Has nothing of substance been achieved since Sept 11? Or has the administration merely secured the safety of an expanded executive?

- Murphy

No comments: