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Bush Reveals Flu Pandemic Plan

Proposal Includes Funding for Bird Flu Vaccines and Antiviral Drugs
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 1, 2005 -- President Bush outlined a long-awaited national preparedness plan for pandemic influenza Tuesday, asking Congress for $7.1 billion in emergency spending to boost the country's readiness for an outbreak that could include bird flu.

In a speech, Bush gave broad outlines of the plan. The strategy includes increasing preparedness in vaccine and drug production, disease surveillance, and state and local emergency response plans.

Three major flu pandemics struck the world during the 20th century, and public health experts have spent years warning that another widespread outbreak is highly likely. The recent public attention focused on bird flu, which has killed 62 and sickened 121 people in Southeast Asia, gave the warnings new urgency and spurred policy makers into action.

Mutation Potential

So far the bird flu virus, H5N1, has not gained the ability to spread from human to human. But the prospect worries experts because humans lack natural immunity to the virus.

The president repeatedly stressed that there are no signs that a bird flu outbreak is imminent but that the country would now move to increase its preparedness.

Bush implored Americans to "take personal responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus" in the event of a pandemic and encouraged citizens to visit a new government web site, www.pandemicflu.gov, to pick up tips on hygiene and flu preparedness.

"If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare," Bush said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

Vaccine Production

The plan includes $4.7 billion in government purchases and technology investments for vaccine makers to speed production of both annual seasonal flu shots and a still-experimental H5N1 vaccine. Bush said he would also ask Congress to give vaccine makers long-sought immunity against patient lawsuits as a way to entice more companies to enter the vaccine market.

Only one company -- Aventis Pasteur -- makes injectable flu vaccine in the U.S. The rest of the national supply comes from overseas plants. Part of the administration's plan includes nearly $3 billion to help manufacturers develop more rapid ways of producing vaccines, which are now made in a months-long process using chicken eggs to grow flu viruses.

"In the event of a pandemic, we must have enough vaccine for every American," the president said.

Public health experts have spent years warning lawmakers and the public about gaps in the nation's preparedness for a flu pandemic. The warnings largely crystallized after Southeast Asia's bird flu outbreak and after Hurricane Katrina revealed shortcomings in the government's disaster-response abilities.

"This is a historic day in public health. We have worked hard for a decade to put influenza on the table," Julie M. Gerberding, MD, director of the CDC, tells WebMD.

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