Thompson Asks Congress for $1.2B to Stockpile Antibiotics, Vaccines
The Bush administration asked lawmakers yesterday for $1.5 billion to prepare against bioterrorist attacks, including $1.2 billion to stockpile antibiotics and vaccines, the Washington Post reports. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that a "radical expansion" of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile would serve as the "centerpiece" of a plan to protect against future bioterrorist attacks. Thompson also requested $175 million to bolster state and local defenses against bioterrorism, $61 million for hundreds of food inspectors and $20 million for federal laboratories. "Bioterrorism has not been a high fiscal priority in the past, and we need to move aggressively," he said. The Bush administration had planned to increase the U.S. stockpile of smallpox vaccine by 40 million doses, but Thompson yesterday asked for $509 million to purchase 300 million doses -- "enough smallpox vaccine for every American" -- by late next year. Thompson said that the government today has 15 million doses of the vaccine, which officials could dilute to inoculate as many as 77 million Americans. According to NIH experts, the diluted dosage "would be 95% effective," he said. Thompson said that smallpox vaccine has a risk of "serious complications," including brain damage, and did not recommend mandatory vaccinations (Connolly/Gray, Washington Post, 10/18). However, he said that the government would "revisit the question" and may launch a voluntary smallpox vaccination program in the future, which would represent a "huge shift in policy" (Stolberg, New York Times, 10/18). Thompson also "sought to reassure" Americans that the government has an adequate supply of Cipro, the only drug that the FDA has approved to treat inhaled anthrax, but added that people exposed to anthrax also could take generic penicillin or doxycycline. In addition, Thompson proposed expanding the number of "push packs," 50-ton pre-packaged bundles of medical supplies that include vaccines and antibiotics, from eight to 12 (Borenstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/18).
Thompson also said that the Bush administration would not invoke a federal law that would allow generic drug makers to bypass Bayer's patent on Cipro and manufacture the drug for the government. Thompson called the move "illegal." Patent lawyers, however, said that the government had "clear authority ... to act." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday asked the administration to allow generic drug makers to produce a version of Cipro. According to an "official close to the administration's negotiations" with Schumer, the White House "clearly made a political decision" not to invoke the law (Bumiller, New York Times, 10/18). Thompson said that the FDA will "officially" approve the use of generic penicillin and doxycycline to treat anthrax (Reuters/Washington Times, 10/18). With supplies of Cipro "dwindling so quickly that pharmacies and wholesalers are beginning to ration" it, the Los Angeles Times reports that the FDA hopes to "stave off panic and hoarding" of the drug. "We hope [to] make the lay public understand that there are alternative antibiotics available," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said. The FDA will likely approve the drugs in the next few days, which should "loosen supplies" of Cipro and "bring the price down dramatically" (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/18). In addition, the FDA will publish "exact doses" of drugs other than Cipro that Americans can take in the event of anthrax exposure (Investor's Business Daily, 10/18). Bristol-Myers Squibb also has asked the FDA to approve Tequin, a drug similar to Cipro, to treat inhaled anthrax (Petersen/Pear, New York Times, 10/18).
The CDC plans to participate in a video conference and Webcast today with the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association to help inform doctors and nurses about anthrax (Reuters/Washington Times, 10/18). To view the Webcast, titled "Anthrax: What Every Clinician Should Know," go to http://www.cdc.gov/phtn/ (HHS release, 10/17).
Newspapers around the nation have published reports on the U.S. response to the incidents of anthrax exposure in the past few weeks. Some of today's coverage appears below.
- The Boston Globe reports that federal and state authorities have investigated an "explosion" of Internet sites that prey on the public's fear of anthrax by illegally selling Cipro without requiring a proper prescription (Dembner, Boston Globe, 10/18). Health officials have expressed concern that the Web sites could "strai[n]" the supply of Cipro and lead to the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of anthrax (Berman/Angwin, Wall Street Journal, 10/18).
- The New York Times reports that while Bayer is "blessed" with Cipro, the "most hotly desired drug in the nation," the company faces "big problems" in its efforts to meet the "explosive demand" for the drug (Andrews, New York Times, 10/18). According to the Wall Street Journal, Bayer may ask some rival drug firms to help manufacture Cipro to ensure that the government has an "adequate" supply (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 10/18). And the Washington Post reports that the incidents of anthrax exposure in the United States have drug companies "scrambling" to supply the government with vaccines and antibiotics (Chea/Gillis, Washington Post, 10/18).
- The New York Times reports that anthrax incidents in the past few weeks have "exposed a lack of coordination" among federal agencies and between federal and state authorities, which experts said has "hampered" the government's health response (Labaton/Pear, New York Times, 10/18).
USA Today reports that, according to a Pentagon source, the U.S. military has a "dwindling" supply of anthrax vaccine -- "unlikely to be replenished" until next year -- and has only inoculated troops "considered most at risk" of a bioterrorist attack (USA Today, 10/18).
- The Wall Street Journal profiles the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (Hensley/Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 10/18).