Many Still Question Nation’s Preparedness for Possible Bioterrorist Attack
Public health officials across the country are strengthening efforts to address a possible bioterrorist attack and have been working on response plans since the anthrax incidents last fall. The following are summaries of news coverage addressing local, state and federal responses:
Boston Herald: Although federal and state officials are "tak[ing] the lead" in preparing for a possible bioterrorist attack, it is the doctors "in the trenches" who must be aware of the "first signs" of an attack, the Boston Herald reports. Boston Public Health Commission's Communicable Diseases Director Dr. Anita Barry said, "Almost any bioterrorism episode is going to come to light first through an astute clinician recognizing an unusual case or cluster and reporting it to the local health department so more investigation can be done." She added, "The physician is the first and best line of defense" against an attack (Lasalandra, Boston Herald, 9/9).
Chicago Tribune: The nation's public health system has "a long way to go" before it will be prepared to "recognize and counter" a bioterrorism attack, though some progress has been made and funding for the issue has increased, the Chicago Tribune reports. The government has not yet taken "basic steps" to protect against an attack, including vaccinating frontline responders, computerizing reports of diseases or bolstering the procedure to identify food-borne attacks. "The federal government is just beginning to come to grips with this new threat and has not yet appropriately dealt with it," Dr. Tara O'Toole, Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategy director, said (Gorner et al., Chicago Tribune, 9/6).
- "60 Minutes," CBS: HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes" that although the federal government has not yet "come up with a real good detection system" for biological agents, his agency is "investing a lot of research dollars into it." Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "Anybody that thinks that as a nation we're going to be fully prepared by what we in Washington do is deceiving themselves." Still, Thompson said, "The truth of the matter is, we are better prepared than we have ever been in America. People don't realize how far we've come. ... Am I satisfied? No. Will I ever be satisfied? I hope not" (Wallace, "60 Minutes," CBS, 9/8).
New York Daily News: Since the anthrax incidents, the United States is in "much, much better shape" to address a biological attack, former head of the HHS Office of Public Health Preparedness D.A. Henderson said, the New York Daily News reports. The government has increased funding for the office to $3 billion from $300 million and could request up to $5.9 billion for the 2003 fiscal year. In addition, the country is establishing stockpiles of vaccines for both anthrax and smallpox. Jane's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense Editor John Eldridge said, "[T]raining is key to all of this. ... Emergency workers have to be able to recognize symptoms - and prevent public panic" (Siemaszko, New York Daily News, 9/9).
New York Times: The United States is still "highly vulnerable" to a potential bioterrorist attack, especially one aimed at the country's food supply, the New York Times reports. Some officials maintain that protecting the nation's food supply has received "too low a priority" in efforts to protect the country. Thomas Frazier, president of GenCon, a not-for-profit group that promotes scientific and educational projects affecting agriculture, said, "There is a true crisis in agricultural biosecurity." CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said, "There are still some gaps. There is a kind of mosaic of capacity right now" (Gay Stolberg/Miller, New York Times, 9/9).
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Although local health departments and "the usual" first responders to any potential disaster are vital in responding to a bioterrorist attack, they may no longer be the first "to sound the alert," Sam Watson, co-founder of the University of Pittsburgh's and Carnegie Mellon University's BioMedical Security Institute said, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Watson, speaking at a three-day national conference on the issue, added, "[T] he new system relies on the vigilance of everyday people," according to the Post-Gazette (Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/9).
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profiles the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory. The newly established lab focuses on breathing apparatuses for use by first responders to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents (Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/9).
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