Thompson Addresses U.S. Bioterrorist Vulnerability Fears
Addressing the "possibility" of a biological or chemical attack on the United States, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday that "we are safer than we'd been led to believe." Thompson said that the federal government has eight sites nationwide that contain packages stocked with 50 tons of medical supplies, including vaccines, antibiotics, gas masks and ventilators, that officials can move to the site of a bioterrorism attack "within hours." He also said that the National Disaster Medical Service has 7,000 medical professionals nationwide "ready to go" in the event of a biological attack. "We've got to make sure that people understand that they're safe. And that we're prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops from any kind of bioterrorism attack," Thompson said, adding, "I don't think the American people should be scared into believing that they have to have a gas mask."
According to Thompson, the United States has 15.4 million doses of smallpox vaccines prepared to deliver in the event of a bioterrorism attack ("60 Minutes" transcript, CBS, 9/30). Public health experts estimate, however, that the United States must have about 40 million doses to "combat a serious epidemic" (Stolberg, New York Times, 9/30). Still, Thompson said last Friday at a Georgetown University forum, "We have an adequate supply right now. It doesn't mean we could not use more," (Josh Kotzman, California Healthline, 10/1). He said that Acambis Inc., the Cambridge, Mass., unit of British biotechnology company Acambis PLC, would supply the federal government with an additional 40 million doses next year. Thompson added that the government would use antibiotics to treat Americans in the event of an anthrax attack and has "no plans" to distribute the vaccine, manufactured for the U.S. military by BioPort Corp., to civilians. He said that the government has an antibiotic supply to treat two million Americans for 60 days (McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 10/1).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.