Bush Administration Expected To Request $6B to $10B for Avian Flu Pandemic Preparedness Plan
The Bush administration plans to ask Congress for an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion to stockpile vaccines and antiviral medications as part of its plans to prepare the U.S. for a possible flu pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers/Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 10/1). According to the Los Angeles Times, HHS is "rushing to complete its first comprehensive plan for coping with a possible flu pandemic and could release the final version as early as this week." The funding request is expected to cover some of the plan.
The current draft plan, which is several hundred pages long, describes the role the federal government would take in coordinating a response to a flu pandemic. In addition, it describes the steps to be taken at all levels of government before and during an outbreak. The plan calls for the production and stockpiling of antiviral medicines and vaccines -- which already has begun -- as well as research, public education campaigns and the development of ways for hospitals to treat large numbers of patients.
Some experts say the production of vaccines will be the biggest challenge, in part because scientists cannot create the most effective vaccine until they know which strain of influenza is causing a pandemic. To stem the spread of a pandemic during the delay in vaccine availability, the plan calls for stockpiling antiviral medicines, which reduce the severity of symptoms and the duration of illness if administered during the first 48 hours of infection. Other steps authorities could take include quarantines, travel restrictions, cancellation of public events and closures of public facilities (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 10/3).
"Avian flu could be the Katrina of medicine," John Bartlett, chief of the infectious disease unit of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said. Senate Budget Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said, "There's a sense of urgency that we have to get in front of this. It's safe to say that it's going to take a lot of money" (Rogers/Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 10/3).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, who is directing development of the plan, said, "It's a world-changing event when it occurs. It reaches beyond health. It affects economies, cultures, politics and prosperity -- not to mention human life, counted by the millions." However, some health experts and preparedness advocates said the efforts do not compensate for "what they called an inadequate response to evidence that the risk of a pandemic had increased substantially since new strains of avian flu began infecting humans in 1997," the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 10/3).
According to the Journal, the Bush administration's efforts come after the Senate on Thursday approved an amendment to the defense-spending bill that would earmark $3.9 billion to prepare the U.S. for a flu pandemic (Rogers/Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 10/1).
The amendment -- which still faces a vote when the Senate considers the full defense bill -- earmarks $3 billion for stockpiling of the antiviral medication Tamiflu; $125 million to improve vaccine "infrastructure," including manufacturing and research capacity; $600 million for grants to local and state health officials to help them improve monitoring and vaccination programs; and $75 million for improving communications to providers, hospitals, business and the public in the event of a pandemic.
The office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who sponsored the amendment, said the funding also would be used to improve hospitals' surge capacity. The National Association of City and County Health Officials is urging the House to consider similar legislation (CQ HealthBeat, 9/30).