U.S. "Woefully Unprepared" to Protect Against Bioterrorism

Well, here’s something to keep you up at night. “The United States remains woefully unprepared to protect the public against terrorists wielding biological agents despite dramatic increases in biodefense spending by the Bush administration and considerable progress on many fronts, according to government officials and specialists in bioterrorism and public health,” the Washington Post reports.

“There’s no area of homeland security in which the administration has made more progress than bioterrorism, and none where we have further to go,” said Richard A. Falkenrath, who until May was Bush’s deputy homeland security adviser and is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

There is good news buried in the story, however. For instance, spending has increased from $414 million to a proposed $7.6 billion since 9/11. We now have more than 300 million smallpox vaccines on hand, up from 90,000. But the basic infrastructure — including the organization of the management system — still seems haphazard and unwieldy.

In a related CATO Institute report, authors William J. Bicknell, M.D., and Kenneth D. Bloem argue that “we have not yet realized the complexity and difficulty of vaccinating millions of Americans rapidly after an attack. Nor have we come to grips with the need to make rapid, possibly draconian, post-attack decisions based on limited data of uncertain quality. That type of decisionmaking runs counter to the culture of public health.”

[Read the Washington Post story]
[Read the CATO Institute report, “Smallpox and Bioterrorism: Why the Plan to Protect the Nation Is Stalled and What to Do”]