Bush Administration Plan for Flu Outbreaks

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On May 3, 2006, the George W. Bush White House "unveiled a foreboding report on the nation's lack of preparedness for a bird flu pandemic, warning that such an outbreak could kill up to 2 million people and deal a warlike blow to the country's economic and social fabric. It urged state and local governments to make preparations beyond the federal efforts," James Gerstenzang reported for the Chicago Tribune May 4, 2006.

"In the government's first detailed look at the potential impact on public health and U.S. society, the report said a full-blown pandemic could lead to travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines, massive absenteeism, an economic slowdown 'and civil disturbances and breakdowns in public order," Gerstenzang wrote.

According to Gerstenzang,

  • The report "warned that the health-care system cannot meet the country's needs in a flu pandemic."
  • "In the event of multiple simultaneous outbreaks, there may be insufficient medical resources or personnel to augment local capabilities."
  • The report said "state, local and tribal governments should 'anticipate that all sources of external aid may be compromised during a pandemic,' ... meaning 'local communities will have to address the medical and non-medical effects of the pandemic with available resources.'"
  • "The strategy is built around three elements: preparation, surveillance and detection, and containment. And the report listed more than 300 steps it said the administration would take, had already begun to take or would recommend that state and local governments pursue."

"The document includes the White House Homeland Security Council's plan to implement a national strategy in the face of a flu pandemic, for which Congress appropriated $3.8 billion," Gerstenzang wrote.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), "the senior Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a report of his own that chastised the [Bush] administration for what it said was a failure to prepare the country for a flu pandemic," Gerstenzang wrote. "Speaking on the Senate floor, Kennedy said the administration suffered from 'competence-deficit disorder.'

"'The United States is at the back of the line in ordering essential flu medicines, and we're at the bottom of the international league in having a coordinated national strategy'," Kennedy said.


The Bush "Plan" 2005

In an October 4, 2005, Rose Garden press conference, President George W. Bush said that the United States is "preparing for a possible outbreak of bird flu." Bush said that he had "urged other world leaders during meetings at the United Nations in September to be aware of the dangers posed by avian influenza and to have 'rapid reporting' to the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to 'deal with a potential pandemic.'"

"U.S. officials, the president said, are 'doing everything we can' to deal with the issue.
"'We're watching it. We're careful. We're in communications with the world. I'm not predicting an outbreak. I'm just suggesting to you that we better be thinking about it. And we are. And we're more than thinking about it; we're trying to put plans in place,' he said."

The November 2005 381-page plan, officially called the Pandemic Influenza Strategic Plan — "which has been years in the making" — "developed by the Bush administration to deal with any possible outbreak of pandemic flu shows that the United States is woefully unprepared for what could become the worst disaster in the nation's history," Gardiner Harris wrote in the October 8, 2005, New York Times. (emphasis added)

The plan "calls for quarantine and travel restrictions but concedes that such measures 'are unlikely to delay introduction of pandemic disease into the U.S. by more than a month or two.' ... [A] large outbreak that began in Asia would be likely, because of modern travel patterns, to reach the United States within 'a few months or even weeks.'

"If such an outbreak occurred, hospitals would become overwhelmed, riots would engulf vaccination clinics, and even power and food would be in short supply, according to the plan, which was obtained by The New York Times." (emphasis added)

Super Strategy: Insufficient

In his Tuesday, November 1, 2005, speech delivered at the National Institutes of Health, Bush asked Congress "for $7.1 billion in emergency funding to prepare the United States for a possible pandemic of avian influenza," Reuters' Maggie Fox and Caren Bohan reported. "The total includes requests of $1.2 billion to make 20 million more doses of the current vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza, $2.8 billion to accelerate new flu-vaccine technology and $1 billion to stockpile more antiviral drugs."

Bush said that "we must have emergency plans in place in all 50 states, in every local community. We must ensure that all levels of government are ready to act to contain an outbreak." Although several groups "praised Bush for making a start," they "said the requests were nowhere near enough," Fox and Bohan wrote.

"The president also said the United States must approve liability protection for the makers of lifesaving vaccines. He said the number of American vaccine manufacturers has plummeted because the industry has been hit with a flood of lawsuits," Lauran Neergaard reported for the Associated Press.

Getting the Excuses Ready

"[O]ne would think that any government would make preventing and preparing for this potential catastrophe a major priority. It's therefore nice to see that, for the Bush administration, avian flu is a priority. However, the priority isn't preparing for it but preparing to spin the government's failure to prepare," Stephen Soldz wrote October 19, 2005, in CounterPunch.

Mission Impossible

"After wandering amid cages of birds and rabbits at an open-air market in Hanoi, after watching the gutting of a freshly slaughtered chicken, and after visiting a Haiphong family sickened by bird flu," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, "the United States' top health official came to a grim conclusion: Preventing the start of a global flu outbreak is just about impossible," Associated Press Medical Writer Margie Mason, wrote October 15, 2005.

War on Bird Flu

"Whenever the world is not to his liking, President Bush has a tendency to turn to the military to make it better. The most prominent example is the country's response to 9/11, complete with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After Hurricane Katrina, Bush belatedly called on the military to assist in securing New Orleans, and has since suggested that Congress should consider empowering the military to be the first responders in any national disaster," George J. Annas wrote in the October 8, 2005, Boston Globe. "On Tuesday, the president suggested that the United States should confront the risk of a bird flu pandemic by giving him the power to use the US military to quarantine 'part[s] of the country' experiencing an 'outbreak.'"

"So we have moved quickly in the past month, at least metaphorically, from the global war on terror to a proposed war on hurricanes, to a proposed war on the bird flu."

Another Michael D. Brown in Charge?

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leads the response to a health crisis, such as a flu pandemic, through the Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness (ASPHEP). [1]

Stewart Simonson was appointed in 2003 as ASPHEP. "Like Michael Brown at FEMA, Simonson is a lawyer who was close to a political benefactor," in this case former DHHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, with whom Simonson has served since Thompson was governor in Wisconsin. [2]

Congressman Henry A. Waxman has "recently pointed to Simonson as an example where Bush has 'repeatedly appointed inexperienced individuals with political connections to important government posts, including positions with key responsibilities for public health and safety.'" [3]

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Federal Register page and date: 70 FR 17299, April 5, 2005: Executive Order 13295: "Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases," April 4, 2003. Amended April 1, 2005, with Executive Order 13375: "Amendment to Executive Order 13295 Relating to Certain Influenza Viruses and Quarantinable Communicable Disease":

"Section 1. Based upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Surgeon General, and for the purpose set forth in section 1 of Executive Order 13295 of April 4, 2003, section 1 of such order is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:
"'(c) Influenza caused by novel or reemergent influenza viruses that are causing, or have the potential to cause, a pandemic.'"

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