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    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    Preparedness Update: Are we prepared for a bioterrorism attack? No. We've got stockpiles of supplies, but no way to distribute them. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to get a flu vaccine this year. If distribution plans had been in place, the flow of vaccine from the manufacturer to the CDC to local public health departments and then to the high risk public should have been smooth. It wasn't, and hasn't been. Instead, we've had heads of local public and state public health departments stating publicly they have no idea if and when they'll get flu vaccine, and we've had elderly people standing in long lines at grocery stores and pharmacies to get vaccines.

    Part of the problem may be understaffing, but a larger problem is that those who have been made responsible for bioterrorism response plans seem to have a mental block when it comes to taking the threat seriously. They're more concerned about familiar threats, such as influenza and antibiotic-resisitant bacteria:

    ...."I'm not downplaying five deaths from anthrax," Gensheimer said, "but we have 38,000 people dying of influenza each year."

    Even in cases where vaccines and antibiotics are available, the supply of these medications is unreliable. "There have been shortages of several antibiotics," said Gensheimer. "It's a symptom of the whole system. We really are vulnerable."

    "And people still don't have any clue what we're talking about when we say 'influenza pandemic,' " said Olson. The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 killed at least 25 million people worldwide in just those two years — more than died in World War I.

    "The U.S. does not have a robust infrastructure for developing antibiotics — they're viewed as low-priced commodities," said Olson, "increasing reliance on off-shore manufacturers. The fact is we don't have the ability to ramp up to produce these drugs."

    Not to downplay the here and now of those problems, but bioterrorism is a very real threat that we must take equally seriously. And while it's beyond the ken of public health departments to improve drug research or vaccine manufacturing methods, it certainly is within their ken to have distribution plans in place and tested, and to have the staff hired to implement them. (Or, at the very least, to have enlisted volunteers from the local medical community to help implement them.)

    In many areas, mine included, efforts at bioterrorism preparedness have been non-existent. There needs to be a full accounting from each state and local health department to the federal government of how those bioterrorism preparedness funds were spent. And then, there needs to be some accountability.

    The CDC and HHS have proven themselves inferior to the task of coordinating nationwide bioterrorism preparedness. Perhaps Tom Ridge's replacement at Homeland Security will be up to it.

    posted by Sydney on 12/02/2004 08:14:00 AM 0 comments


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