Senate Approves Measure To Provide $4B for U.S. Avian Flu Preparedness
The Senate on Thursday by voice vote agreed to attach to the $440 billion fiscal year 2006 defense appropriations bill a measure that would provide $4 billion to CDC to stockpile the antiviral medication Tamiflu in preparation for a potential avian flu outbreak, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports. The federal government would use about $3 billion of the funds to purchase Tamiflu, manufactured by Roche, with the remainder used to detect and contain avian flu worldwide, provide grants to local and state health departments and educate the public (Sidoti, AP/Chicago Tribune, 9/29).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has called for the federal government to stockpile an adequate supply of Tamiflu to treat 20 million U.S. residents. However, the federal government currently has an adequate supply of Tamiflu to treat a few million residents. Roche officials have said that the company will build additional manufacturing facilities in the U.S. to increase the supply of Tamiflu.
"If we have learned anything from recent disasters on the Gulf Coast, it is that we must confidently prepare for disasters before they strike so that we are not left picking up the pieces," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who sponsored the measure, said (McKenna, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/30).
The Senate plans to vote on the defense appropriations bill next week. The House version of the legislation does not include the avian flu preparedness measure (AP/Chicago Tribune, 9/30).
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday sent a letter to Leavitt that asked him to "refine and finalize" U.S. preparations for a potential flu pandemic. Frist wrote, "I am increasingly concerned that the United States remains unprepared in the event of a global pandemic. We lack our best defenses: an effective vaccine and a robust antiviral stockpile, each complicated by a weakened domestic manufacturing capacity."
Frist said that HHS must have a "coordinated, comprehensive and aggressive plan, which reflects the insight and guidance of key U.S. agencies and public health experts." Frist also said that the federal government should have adequate supply of Tamiflu to treat at least half of the U.S. population (CQ HealthBeat, 9/27).
In related news, World Health Organization Director-General Lee Jong-wook on Thursday announced the appointment of David Nabarro as senior coordinator of flu prevention and preparedness for the three major U.N. health agencies. Nabarro, formerly executive director for sustainable development and health environments at WHO, will combine separate flu preparedness campaigns previously administered by organization offices in Geneva, the World Organization for Animal Health in Paris and the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
"The WHO has been very clear about the imminent threat of human influenza pandemic," Lee said, adding, "Coordination of these efforts is critical" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/30).
At a news conference, Nabarro said, "We expect the next influenza pandemic to come at any time now, and it's likely to be caused by a mutant of the virus that is currently causing bird flu in Asia." He added, "The avian flu epidemic has to be controlled if we are to prevent a human influenza pandemic." Nabarro estimated that the number of deaths in the event of a flu pandemic could total between five million and 150 million.
Nabarro said that on Friday he will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with the U.S. Department of State to discuss preparations for the first meeting of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza on Oct. 7. The partnership, announced by President Bush at the U.N. summit on Sept. 14, seeks to improve global preparedness for a potential flu pandemic (Lederer, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/29).