States Not Prepared for Potential Bioterrorist Attack, HHS Officials Determine
Only one state, Florida, is adequately prepared to receive and distribute medicines and vaccines from the federal government in the event of a bioterrorist attack, according to progress reports that states were required to file with HHS by Friday, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. However, even Florida still needs to perform drills to ensure it is ready to receive assistance from the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (Meckler, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/2). HHS officials rated bioterrorist preparedness plans for 62 states, cities and territories based on a color-coded traffic light system. Florida's was the only plan to receive a "green" rating, while 52 plans received "amber ratings," four plans received "red" ratings and six plans have not been reviewed, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/1). HHS requested that the plans describe how the state, city or territory would distribute medicine, where it could provide 500 hospital beds for "mass casualties" and how it would isolate "highly contagious patients." The reports showed that most regions cannot provide 500 hospital beds and do not have the space to quarantine infected people. In addition, almost 33% of state plans did not describe a process for coordinating care with bordering states, and about 50% of the plans did not account for the safety of American Indian tribes. However, Jerome Hauer, HHS' assistant secretary for public health preparedness, said states "could still handle an emergency if they had to," even though HHS does not consider them fully prepared, the AP/Inquirer reports. Plans detailing how states would vaccinate their populations in the event of a smallpox attack are due to HHS by Dec. 1 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/2).
In related news, the U.S. military's ability to protect its soldiers against an attack with biological weapons has improved over the last 10 years, but protective clothing and shelters "remain inadequate," according to recent reports by the Department of Defense and the General Accounting Office, Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star reports. The reports found that the military does not have enough protective boots, masks, gloves and suits; does not adequately train troops for a biological or chemical attack; and has only 5% of the necessary number of specialized medical shelters to treat wounded soldiers on a contaminated battlefield. The Navy needs an additional one million suits and boots, the Air Force has less than half the suits it needs and the Marine Corps has less than half the required number of boots, according to the reports. In addition, about 250,000 of the military's more than 4 million suits are defective. Raymond Decker, the GAO's director of defense capabilities, said, "A real gap exists between the priority and emphasis given chemical and biological defense by (the Defense Department) and the actual implementation of the program" (Borenstein, Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 11/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.