- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005


The Bush administration’s plan to fight the next super-flu likely will include attempts to spot human infections early, both here and abroad.

Governors and mayors are on notice to figure out who will use stockpiled vaccines.

President Bush on Tuesday will visit the National Institutes of Health to announce his administration’s strategy on how to prepare for the next flu pandemic, whether it’s caused by the avian flu in Asia or some other super strain of influenza. Federal health officials have spent the last year updating the national plan.

The president will ask Congress for unspecified new money, not just for a vaccine against bird flu but to fund a buildup of infrastructure ready to deal with any pandemic, said a senior administration official, who spoke yesterday on the condition of anonymity.

Stockpiling drugs and vaccines is just one component.

“Understand that a lot of the things we need to do to prepare are not related to magic bullets,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota who has advised the government on preparations for the next worldwide flu outbreak but has not seen the final version of the plan.

How to provide food supplies, everyday medical care for people who don’t have the super-flu, basic utilities and even security must be part of the plan, Mr. Osterholm and others have told the Bush administration.

While it is impossible to say when the next super-flu will strike, there have been three pandemics in the last century, and influenza specialists say there may be another soon. Concern is growing that the avian flu could trigger one if it mutates to spread easily among humans — something that hasn’t yet happened.

The government already is buying $162.5 million worth of vaccine against that avian flu strain, H5N1, from two companies — Sanofi-Aventis and Chiron Corp. — in case that happens. It also is ordering millions of doses of Tamiflu and Relenza, two anti-flu drugs thought to offer some protection against the avian flu.

Lawmakers already have given Mr. Bush money to begin the preparations: $8 billion in emergency funding that the Senate passed on Thursday.

That money is to be spent at the president’s discretion, but senators said it should be used both for medications and vaccine and for beefing up hospitals and other systems to detect and contain a super-flu.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, called the funding “a victory for common sense.”

But amid growing public fear about the avian flu, federal health officials are concerned that if the worrisome strain in fact fizzles — or is contained in birds and never threatens Americans’ health — there will be strong skepticism next time.

“Will critics say, ‘We have been crying wolf,’ and lose the sense of urgency we feel about this issue?” Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt asked last week .

They shouldn’t, he says, because pandemic preparations to improve how vaccines are made and diseases are detected will improve public health overall.

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