Monday, June 04, 2007

US Cuts More Than $600 Million From Vaccine Research, Pandemic Preparedness Funding

Does the US government now view the possibility of a bird flu pandemic as less of a threat than it did back in 2005, or are they cutting funding to what were once deemed "essential" pandemic related funding programs because the Iraq War is soaking up increasingly rare government dollars right across the board?

Jay From ThreatsWatch writes : the latest Defense spending bill, a mere $13.2 million to address avian flu research and monitoring was provided. But the bill was passed without $650 million in pandemic preparedness spending that had been included in an earlier version of the bill. The earlier bill was vetoed by President Bush because it set a timetable for starting a US withdrawal from Iraq.

The exclusion of the pandemic money doesn’t mean Congress won’t appropriate anything for that purpose this year, but it does suggest that a considerable delay is likely, said Richard Hamburg, government relations director for Trust for America’s Health, a public health advocacy group based in Washington, DC.

“This is going to delay completion of the initial commitment by the president to supply at least $7.1 billion in funding,” he said, referring to Bush’s request for pandemic preparedness funds in November 2005. “And we’re certainly concerned about the fate of those dollars and whether they’ll go into another vehicle.”

The deleted $650 million included $625 million for vaccines, antivirals, other medical supplies, and diagnostic and surveillance tools, according to a text of the earlier bill that was vetoed (HR 1591). The sum also included $25 million to compensate individuals for any injuries caused by H5N1 influenza vaccines.
The World Health Organisation repeatedly issues media releases saying the world must not lose focus on pandemic prevention and preparedness as human victims of the H5N1 virus lessen (on last year's figures), but the United States government appears to be taking an approach that says, "We won't pour tons of money into funding vaccine research, but we will tell you about lots of ways you can prepare your business, home and community to cope with a pandemic outbreak."

The actual value of creating a vaccine for a mutated virus strain that has yet to show itself completely has always been debatable, but the WHO will no doubt be troubled by the US government appearing to take its foot off the accelerator in preparing the country for the expected pandemic.

It will probably provide little comfort to Americans to know that President Bush can now seize control of the National Guard in the event of a pandemic, and can bypass FEMA to allow the White House and the Pentagon to control how the government as a whole will deal with a storm of contingencies and problems resulting from a pandemic that are all but impossible to comprehend, let alone act on in a clear and decisive way.

As with the people of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Americans will probably have to get used to the idea that should a massive and extremely deadly H5N1 pandemic break out amongst the human population, they will be pretty much on their own.

No doubt this is why so many of the state-level seminars and meetings being held across the United States today, encourage local governments and councils to prepare their communities and emergency responses independent of the government's still vague plans.

When your local mayor tells you to put aside a few boxes of canned and dried food and a few dozen litres of water, it won't hurt to follow the mayor's advice. Just in case.

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