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Harkin Offers Proposal to Increase Resources for Avian Flu Preparedness


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced he will offer an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill to provide $2.3 billion in critical resources to prepare for a potential outbreak of the avian flu.  Last year, Congress passed a Harkin proposal to make an initial investment of $3.8 billion to stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs, invest in our vaccine infrastructure, improve our global surveillance, and strengthen state and local public health departments.  Harkin’s amendment to the Supplemental today will provide additional funds urgently needed to secure anti-viral drugs and develop vaccines recommended by health experts to combat a deadly flu pandemic, as well as provide needed resources to state and local public health departments – our first line of defense in case of an outbreak.  The bipartisan amendment is co-sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA).

“The possibility of a deadly outbreak of avian flu is real, and time is of the essence,” Harkin said.  “The threat of pandemic flu has shed light on the lack of US capacity to produce effective vaccines, antiviral and provide needed investments in our public health infrastructure.  We must heed these warning signs, and take the time to invest so that we are prepared throughout the nation and the world.”

Vaccines and anti-viral drugs are essential to preventing and combating any influenza outbreak.  The vaccine manufacturer Chiron testified in January that additional funds were critical to the timely development and production of a vaccine effective against the avian flu.  Just over a month later, the drug manufacturer Roche—developer of the drug “Tamiflu”—was quoted in the New York Times saying the other countries were in line to receive drugs ahead of the United States because of funding shortfalls.  Harkin’s amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill would provide the resources necessary to begin work on both these fronts.

Avian flu, also known as the bird flu, is a virus that to date has primarily been passed from birds to humans.  However, experts predict that it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates and will be able to easily spread between humans creating a widespread public health crisis.  In a matter of weeks, an outbreak in China, Vietnam or Cambodia could trigger a world-wide outbreak facilitated by international travel and globalization. Experts estimate that 90,000 to 300,000 Americans and up to 50 million people worldwide could die if left unprotected during an influenza pandemic.

“This is one of the biggest threats we face today,” said Harkin.  “A flu pandemic is not a matter of if – but when. We must heed these warning signs, and take the time to invest in our public infrastructure.  Instead of always looking into the rear-view mirror, we must do all we can to prevent a disaster, like avian flu, before it happens.”

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