- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Instead of running our regular columnists today, we are using most of our space on the Editorial and Op-ed pages to focus on a single issue: bioterrorism. Specifically, we’re focusing on how the government is successfully — and not so successfully — meeting the security and public health challenges posed by a single terrorist carrying a vial of a biological agent, whether smallpox, ebola or something even more lethal engineered in a laboratory.

The challenge is vast, but the consequences of such an attack are terrifying, as many who lived through the anthrax attacks shortly after September 11 could attest. Those who did not may still have seen the four-part PBS series “Avoiding Armageddon: Our Future. Our Choice,” which analyzed the threat in some detail.

Martin Schram, author of the book that accompanied the series, also wrote the column that sits atop the opposing page. He gives an overview of the threat of bioterrorism and the steps that the government has taken to address it. He is followed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci describes in more detail what the administration is doing to counter the threat and what Congress could be doing to help. The last piece on the page comes from Drs. Tara O’Toole and Thomas Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. They argue that the government has not properly prioritized the threat of bioterrorism, either from a budgeting or a structural standpoint. An article addressing a specific aspect of those shortfalls — the government’s nearly moribund civilian smallpox vaccination program — sits in what is normally the Letters section in the adjacent space. The authors, Dr. William Bicknell and Kenneth Bloem, are well-respected experts in the field, and the problem could not be more critical.

Perhaps the most important recommendation our writers make is for congressional passage of Project Bioshield, the president’s plan to spend billions over the next several years on vaccine development. At this point, Congress has been busy with other matters. However, there is only a short period before budget debates consume much of the calendar. After that, the campaign season begins in earnest.

We hope that, with these articles, we add information and focus to the debate. We hope even more that Congress and the executive branch now begin to give the threat of bioterrorism appropriate attention, and that legislation designed to counter that threat is quickly passed.

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