NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 11, 2005

Nearly four years after 9/11 and after spending $20 billion since 2001, the public health system is unprepared to respond to a bioterror attack, says USA Today.

Among the most alarming gaps are slow delivery, vaccine shortages, delayed counter-measures and unprotected workers, says USA Today:

  • The federal government has stockpiled large quantities of antibiotics, including those to treat anthrax exposure, but, no city has a workable plan to get supplies to the public fast enough to be effective.
  • The government has orders out to stockpile just 5 million doses of anthrax vaccine -- less than what would be needed to protect even the citizens of New York City.
  • Protecting against nuclear terrorism is a top priority, yet Health and Human Services (HHS) has not sought bids from drug companies to provide medical counter-measures, for instance, to treat one of the major threats, radiation sickness.

Moreover, millions of doses of smallpox vaccines are in the federal government's secured warehouses -- a good start, but the nation's effort to vaccinate health care workers so they can quickly deal with an epidemic fell far short of its goal; only 38,000 people --instead of a projected half-million -- were inoculated against smallpox in a program that began two years ago.

Officials at Health and Human Services, which sits atop a sprawling network of federal and local agencies that deal with public health, say the nation has taken giant steps in preparedness since 2001. The problem, they say, is more complex than anyone imagined.

No doubt it is, but four years into the war on terrorism, those officials increasingly sound like football coaches who excuse loss after loss by talking about how tough the opposition is, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Fight against bioterrorism frozen in bureaucratic time," USA Today, August 8, 2005.

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