- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Why did top House Dems support Hilliard to the hilt?

The victory of Artur Davis over incumbent Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, Alabama Democrat, should be considered a triumph of patriotism and ethical conduct ("Hilliard loses House seat in bitter Alabama runoff," Wednesday).
When Mr. Hilliard traveled to Libya an act ignoring the objection of the State Department and smacking of treason he disgraced his constituency. When he was reprimanded by his colleagues in Congress for it, he was shown unfit for his position.
Given such misbehavior, why would the House Democratic leadership offer financial support to a flawed candidate against another Democrat in a primary runoff? Given the safely Democratic district and in light of Mr. Hilliard's dubious record, there seemed to be an incentive to favor the more qualified candidate.
Instead, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri diverted $10,000 to Mr. Hilliard from his political action committee, and House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi of California gave $17,000 from her PAC fund.
Since donors to either fund likely did not intend their money to be used in this manner, this should serve as a caution for those who contribute to general campaign funds.

NELSON MARANS
Silver Spring, Md.

HHS is thinking big about smallpox

On June 20, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delivered recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that expand the current smallpox vaccination policy. In addition to laboratory personnel working with smallpox, these recommendations broaden the existing smallpox vaccination policy to include those individuals who would be most likely to come in contact with smallpox victims in the event of a biological attack.
Charles V. Pena's "Small thinking on smallpox" (Commentary, June 20) criticizes the revised ACIP smallpox vaccination recommendations as misguided and manifesting a lack of knowledge about the complexity of the issues that demand address. Specific criticisms of direct quotes taken from Mr. Pena's article include:
Error No. 1: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are meeting behind closed doors." Not true. During the past month, public forums were held in New York City, San Francisco, San Antonio, St. Louis and Washington. Furthermore, the ACIP meeting held in Atlanta on June 19 and 20 welcomed and received public comment.
Error No. 2: "The bottom line is that an unvaccinated population is completely vulnerable and an attractive target. A better approach than leaving the population exposed would be to take preventative measures." This is untrue and dangerously misleading.
The smallpox vaccine, vaccinia, is a live virus that is closely related to smallpox. Vaccines are infectious and may unintentionally transmit the virus to individuals who may develop life-threatening complications. Because there is a risk of endangering others, this is not simply an issue of an individual's right to choose. The health of the American public must be our primary concern.
The smallpox vaccine is the least safe vaccine ever used in the United States, with 2 to 4 deaths per million vaccines and another 3,000 severe and potentially disabling complications expected. The vaccines available are currently labeled as "Investigational New Drugs" that require the approval of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for participation in clinical trials. Appropriate informed consent, screening, patient follow-up and administrative oversight by federal, state and local public health officials would be required, as well as policy decisions regarding a host of legal and procedural issues, including responsibility for liability and costs incurred. Having trained and prepared health care workers who can detect smallpox cases early with a work force that can implement a mass vaccination plan will be as important as having smallpox vaccine available.
Experts anticipate as many as 30,000 severe complications in a mass vaccination campaign that would require treatment with vaccine immune globulin (VIG). Current government stockpiles contain only enough VIG to treat 700 persons. Furthermore, the smallpox vaccine is protective if given within four days of exposure, during a time when the risk of vaccine to the public will be better justified. The best preventive measure already being exercised consists of strengthening our state and local preparedness to deal with a smallpox outbreak.
HHS has moved aggressively to protect citizens from bioterrorism since last fall's anthrax attacks. There has been significant progress at HHS in recent months, including:
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson's creation of the Office of Public Health Preparedness to direct and coordinate HHS efforts to prepare for, protect against, respond to and recover from all acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies that affect the civilian population.
HHS has provided guidance and more than $1 billion to state and local authorities to enhance preparedness.
Nearly 25 percent of today's population is ineligible to receive the current vaccine due to increased risk of serious complications. HHS is aggressively pursuing the research and development of safer vaccines, as well as safe and effective smallpox anti-viral treatments.
The U.S. government bears responsibility to maximize resources and minimize risks for the common good of the citizenry. Recommendations regarding pre-outbreak vaccination are being made on the basis of a thoughtful and carefully planned process that considers the risks of disease in balance with the benefits and risks of vaccination. HHS and ACIP will continue to review smallpox vaccine policy in step with new information or developments.

JEROME M. HAUER
Director
Office of Public Health Preparedness
Department of Health and Human Services
Washington

New tax won't improve Virginia's roads

If Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner were really interested in "an honest debate" ("Backers press case for roads tax," Metro, Wednesday), he would give the voters all the facts about the upcoming referendum to hike the sales tax to raise funds for transportation improvement.
Mr. Warner pledged that state funding for the Northern Virginia region would not be cut if the pending transportation referendum were passed. The fact is that it already has been cut drastically.
According to figures I received from the Virginia Department of Transportation, statewide transportation funding was reduced from $2.175 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $1.546 billion in fiscal year 2002, a decrease of 29 percent.
But during this same two-year period, Northern Virginia's share of transportation funds dropped from $605 million to $308 million, a decrease of 49 percent. Although a few million more have been tacked back on for a couple of projects, the cut is still far greater than the state average and remains so for the full six years in the planning cycle.
Virginia voters need to know that even if the sales tax referendum were passed, it would do little to relieve traffic congestion because there is no comprehensive transportation plan. Besides, a disproportionate amount of funds is allocated to mass transit, which is used by less than 10 percent of the population.

BILL WHEATON
Falls Church, Va.

Less is more for 'American Scene'

I read The Washington Times daily and especially enjoy perusing the national highlights in the American Scene section. Its new full-page format is disturbing, however, because it contains one horrible story after another: a murder, kidnapping, car wreck, ad nauseam. This is too much bad news for one sitting.
Of course, I don't deny that bad things happen all over the country every day, but must we know about all of them? I have chosen to scan American Scene and read only those articles that don't graphically describe tragedies.
Please return to the shorter format. Less is more.

J.C. MAYS
Gaithersburg


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