- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

President Bush yesterday outlined a national strategy for protecting Americans from a flu pandemic and said he will ask Congress for $7.1 billion in emergency funding “to meet all our goals.”

“There is no pandemic flu in our country, or in the world, at this time,” Mr. Bush said in an address at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. “But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare, and one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.”

The Senate last week approved $8 billion in new spending for avian-flu preparedness as part of a larger health spending bill. The House has not yet acted on the funding.

The president said the national strategy is designed to meet three critical goals.

“First, we must detect [influenza] outbreaks that occur anywhere in the world” among both humans and animals so they don’t spread, Mr. Bush said.

As part of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which the president announced last month at the United Nations, countries and organizations immediately must share information about potential outbreaks, take steps to control the spread of the disease and send disease samples to the World Health Organization for analysis.

“Second, we must protect the American people by stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, and improve our ability to rapidly produce new vaccines against a pandemic strain,” Mr. Bush said.

NIH is working with the vaccine industry to use new cell-culture technology to develop enough vaccine to immunize every American within six months of the start of a pandemic.

The president also said Congress must pass liability protection for the makers of lifesaving vaccines.

“Third, we must be ready to respond at the federal, state and local levels in the event that a pandemic reaches our shores,” Mr. Bush said.

Toward that goal, the administration is starting the National Biosurveillance Initiative that the president said “will help us rapidly detect, quantify and respond to outbreaks of disease in humans and animals and deliver information quickly to state and local and national and international public health officials.”

Typically, about 40,000 Americans die each year from influenza complications. Most are elderly or have weakened immune systems.

“Pandemic flu is another matter,” Mr. Bush said. “Pandemic flu occurs when a new strain of influenza emerges that can be transmitted easily from person to person — and for which there is little or no natural immunity.”

To date, the avian flu strain, H5N1, has affected more than 120 people in Southeast Asia and has killed more than half of them. But, at this point, “it’s still primarily an animal disease,” and most of the people who got sick handled infected birds, primarily ducks or chickens, the president said.

The American Medical Association applauded Mr. Bush’s plan and urged Congress “to provide appropriate funding to government agencies to support expanded development and production of vaccines and antivirals.”

The spending will get a close look from fiscal conservatives in Congress. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and a leading budget hawk, said he is “not yet convinced a supplemental is necessary,” and said Congress should not increase the deficit.

“We can and should budget for disasters, especially those which are foreseen, as is the case of a possible disease outbreak,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats said Mr. Bush was late in realizing the problem but welcomed his spending proposal anyway, though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it underfunds states and protects manufacturers against legal challenges from those injured by the vaccines.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.

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