Washington, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), top Democrat on the
subcommittee that funds health care initiatives, today praised Senate
passage of his amendment to provide one of the first major federal
investments to prepare for a potential outbreak of the avian flu. The
amendment was included in the Defense Appropriations measure expected
to be pass the Senate next week.
HARKIN PRAISES SENATE ACTION BOOSTING RESOURCES TO PREVENT AVIAN FLU PANDEMIC
“If we have learned anything from the recent disasters on the Gulf
Coast, it is that we must confidently prepare for disasters before they
strike so that we are not left picking up the pieces,” said Harkin.
“The possibility of an avian flu pandemic is very real. It would be
worse than SARS, worse than anything else we have seen. I am gravely
concerned that this country is woefully unprepared and that time is
Avian flu, also known as the bird flu, is a virus that to date has only
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. Harkin’s amendment called for a greater investment
in our preparedness efforts including increased resources for public
health infrastructure, global surveillance and detection, vaccines, and
Specifically, the amendment would:
Double global surveillance of the avian flu through the Centers for
Disease Control to identify and contain the avian flu virus around the
world as soon as possible.
Restore President Bush’s budget cuts to local and state public health
departments and emergency preparedness activities to help communities
recognize, treat, and quarantine the avian flu virus if it reaches our
shores. The President’s budget cut $122 million from the grants to
state and local public health departments for emergency preparedness
activities, grants that were first funded by Harkin as Chairman of the
Appropriations Subcommittee in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Increase stockpiles of Tamiflu, the one known antiviral drug to be
effective against the current strains of the avian flu. The World
Health Organization has recommended that each country stockpile enough
Tamiflu for 40 percent of their population. Though other countries have
heeded this warning, the United States currently has only two million
doses on hand – enough for one percent of the population. The
additional resources would steadily add to the national stockpile, with
a goal of accumulating enough Tamiflu to serve 50 percent of the
Build up and strengthen our vaccine infrastructure. The United States
currently does not have the capacity to create enough vaccines here at
home. In the event of a pandemic, the US would have to rely on imported
vaccines which countries may be unwilling to export. Provide new
resources for outreach and education efforts to both health care
providers and the public.
“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 read-view mirror, we must do all we
can to prevent a disaster, like avian flu, before it happens.”
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
As a leader in Congress on public health issues, Harkin has pushed
aggressively to strengthen the federal government’s focus on wellness
and disease prevention. Harkin significantly increased funding for the
Centers for Disease Control, bolstered its prevention programs, and
authored legislation changing the agency’s name to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Along with Senator Arlen Specter
(R-PA), he doubled funding for the National Institutes of Health over a
five year period.