Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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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 $7.975 billion to prepare for a potential outbreak of the avian flu. Harkin’s amendment will provide federal resources to stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs, invest in our vaccine infrastructure, improve our global surveillance, strengthen state and local public health departments, improve hospital preparedness and surge capacity, expand outreach and education efforts, and increase surveillance of migratory birds. The amendment was included in the Labor HHS Appropriations bill expected to pass the Senate this week.

“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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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