HARKIN PRESSES FOR RESOURCES TO PREVENT AVIAN FLU PANDEMIC
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2005
Washington, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), top Democrat on the
subcommittee that funds health care initiatives, today announced a
proposal to provide a substantial boost in resources to prepare for a
potential outbreak of the avian flu. Harkin and Democratic Leader Harry
Reid (D-NV) will offer the amendment to the Defense Appropriations
measure expected to be considered by the Senate later today.
“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 and Reid’s amendment called for a greater
investment in our preparedness efforts including increased resources
for public health infrastructure, global surveillance and detection,
vaccines, and anti-viral stockpiles.
Specifically, the amendment would provide resources to:
-H Double global surveillance of the
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
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 population.
– 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
“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
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.