See Andy Grotto Discuss Bioterrorism (YouTube.com)
The release earlier this week of a fourth annual study by the nonpartisan group Trust for America’s Health indicates that the U.S. is still unprepared to handle a major health emergency such as bioterrorist attack or a pandemic flu outbreak. The report affirms many of the Center for American Progress’s previous findings on the subject, particularly the need for the federal government to play a far more forceful role to create the robust national health- and emergency-preparedness infrastructure needed to combat these twin dangers.
“Most states are still not able to deliver medications or medical supplies in a rapid enough way to respond to an emergency,” said Jeff Levi, director of Trust for America’s Health, in a recent article in The Washington Post. Indeed, the report’s findings corroborate what the Center for American Progress concluded earlier this year in the report “Biosecurity: A Comprehensive Action Plan.”
The Trust for America’s Health analysis shows that only fifteen states and/or cities currently have the capability to administer stockpiled vaccines and other drugs on a large scale. More than 50 percent of Americans live in states that do not have plans to deal with a large number of casualties in the event of a bioterrorist attack. And 20 percent of Americans live in states where hospitals lack the medical equipment necessary when handling a severe health crisis.
One region of the country that bioterrorists would most likely target, the District of Columbia metropolitan region, boasts one state, Maryland, that is one of the lowest-ranked states in preparedness for health emergencies such as bioterrorism. Three years ago Maryland had ranked very well—among the best prepared states— in the Trust for America’s Health annual report. This year, the state fell behind because of its nursing shortage and low vaccination rates. The District of Columbia also fared poorly. Neighboring Virginia rated much better, among the 14 best-prepared states.
The Center for American Progress report on the twin dangers of bioterrorism and pandemic flu highlights the overwhelming need for a strong, integrated public health infrastructure. A comprehensive public health strategy at the national level is also imperative in the event of a bioterrorist attack or disease outbreak. In order to implement such a strategy, the U.S. should:
- Remedy critical deficiencies in the nation’s public health infrastructure using an “all-hazards” approach.
- Implement a new research and development strategy for anti-infective drugs and vaccines.
- Strengthen global efforts to prevent terrorists and extremist regimes from acquiring the materials, equipment, and know-how needed to produce biological weapons.
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