- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The petulance and grandstanding that characterizes the attacks on President Bush for conducting surveillance activities against known terrorists is nothing new. It is the primary reason that we, five years after September 11, have nothing to show for our efforts to protect America against bioterrorism and disease outbreaks of a pandemic nature.

Since 2001, private companies and government researchers have ratcheted up investment in countermeasure development. Genomics make it possible to detect outbreaks, break their DNA codes, develop vaccines or drugs in response to many of them and mass-produce enough at least for first responders in months if not weeks. We’re fortunate to have this ingenuity. Two years ago, the Pentagon told Congress that Russia and China are the key suppliers of the know-how and equipment for countries like Iran and groups like al Qaeda trying to develop their own biological and chemical weapons. The international public-health community agrees that pandemic protection is critical as well.

Congress has been considering any number of ways to produce vaccines and drugs to ward off these threats. All involve paying companies for producing medicines and vaccines that respond quickly to emerging threats, giving such products accelerated review at the Food and Drug Administration and providing the companies that make them the same protection against multibillion lawsuits that cheeseburgers and gunmakers now have. Some bills, to facilitate sharing of clinical trial information, give public-private partnerships formed to speed up product development the same limited exemption from open meeting rules that the FDA and the National Institutes of Health provide.

All these measures have been stalled for up to four years. Groups like Public Citizen, which are in the pocket of ambulance chasers, have worked to bottle up even modest vaccine liability protection at a time of war and possible pandemic threat. Imagine if they had carried similar clout when this nation was seeking to ramp up penicillin production during World War II. How many millions would have died of infection so that the unfettered freedom of trial attorneys to sue pharmaceutical companies into oblivion could be guaranteed?

Similarly, those who claim that allowing companies to share data more easily in an effort to accelerate vaccine development are creating a “secret government vaccine agency” slander the worthy efforts of those members of Congress and leading scientists who have been urgently seeking to build a bioshield for this nation.

We lost 620,000 people over the four years of the Civil War. We could lose that many people in one day if terrorists launched a chemical or biological attack, or if pandemic flu spread. Those who regard the privilege of tort lawyers to sue and interest groups to sit in on every federal meeting as more important than our efforts to prepare against pandemic and bioterror have used the legislative process in ways that have left America undefended far too long. As in other aspects of this asymmetrical war, the president must act decisively to protect the nation if Congress cannot.



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