Senate Panel Raises Concerns About Bioterrorism Preparedness
Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Thursday raised concerns about U.S. preparedness for a bioterrorist attack, CongressDaily reports. At the hearing, subcommittee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said that the nation has made progress in bioterrorism preparedness but must do more to protect food and vaccine supplies.
Penrose Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, testified that the federal government currently cannot identify biological pathogens, such as anthrax and smallpox, before they enter the United States. "No, we don't have a good way of detecting someone trying to bring a vial of pathogen across the border," he said. Albright added that the department has focused on detection of populations infected by biological agents to allow early distribution of vaccines to prevent widespread infection.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) raised concerns about U.S. preparedness for an influenza pandemic. Craig said that the nation "lucked out this year," adding, "We made it through the flu season. But I was amazed at our vulnerability there."
However, Stewart Simonson, assistant secretary in the HHS Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, said, "I would not say we are unprepared, but it presents an enormous challenge to us."
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Gregg questioned whether the process used by the office to award vaccine development contracts ensured open competition and delivery to prevent a shortage.
Simonson said that the office has negotiated a number of different vaccine development contracts and has not "put all our eggs in one basket," adding, "We're learning as we go" (Rodriguez Cadavid/Povich, CongressDaily, 4/29).