Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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Washington, D.C. – In a continuing effort to prepare the United States for a potential outbreak of the avian flu, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced today that he will offer an amendment to the Labor HHS Appropriations bill this week to expand and strengthen America’s vaccine infrastructure. Harkin’s amendment would invest in research on the effectiveness of existing vaccines, purchase and stockpile vaccines currently believed to be effective against avian flu, and provide incentives to expand US vaccine manufacturing capacity. Harkin passed an earlier proposal to address other avian flu preparedness needs last month.

“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, a critical element to preventing the spread of any virus. We must act confidently and immediately to protect Americans from this terrible disease. That means stockpiling existing pandemic vaccine, investing in cell-based vaccine, and expanding our vaccine manufacturing capacity in the United States.”

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.

Influenza viruses cause 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Many of these could be prevented with increased use of the influenza vaccine. 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.”

Harkin has led the fight in Congress to prepare for a possible outbreak of pandemic influenza. In May, Harkin secured funding in the Supplemental Appropriations measure to stockpile antiviral drugs effective against the avian flu. Last month, Harkin successfully added an amendment to the Defense spending measure to provided nearly $4 billion to prevent and combat the avian flu. The Harkin amendment provides resources to double global surveillance, stockpile antiviral drugs, improve our vaccine infrastructure, and restore President Bush’s budget cuts to state and local public health agencies, our frontline defenders in case of an outbreak.

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