HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Our Government and Avian Flu

The New York Times reports on our government's latest avian flu program.  It states,

The 227-page plan estimates that a third of the population could become infected, two million people could die, 40 percent of employees might be absent from work during the height of the outbreak, and $600 billion in income could be lost nationwide.

If rioting broke out and overwhelmed the National Guard, the plan says, the president could call out the Army to establish order.

Dr. Josh Sharfstein, commissioner of the Baltimore Health Department, said the plan was welcome but offered "new expectations without new resources."

The plan asks local governments to deal with a flood of hospital patients, care for more patients at home and spend millions of dollars on antiviral drugs, Dr. Sharfstein said.

Congress has appropriated $3.8 billion to pay for preparations like drug and vaccine purchases. The Bush administration has spent $1.8 billion of that appropriation, although Ms. Townsend said that all the money would be spent by October.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who advocated preparations for a pandemic, said the administration had been slow in implementing plans and spending money already appropriated.

A bill to provide another $2.3 billion for flu preparations is moving through Congress, and Ms. Townsend said the administration expected to ask for an additional $1 billion in 2008. . . .

Divided into nine chapters, the plan provides a list of actions federal departments must complete as a pandemic spread. . . .

Mary Selecky, secretary of health for Washington, said the administration plan would help her state align its efforts with those of the federal government.  . . . .Like her counterparts in other states, she complained that the administration was not helping states to finance flu preparations. "They gave us a list of work that they expect us to do," Ms. Selecky said, "but they've only given us a little bit of one-time money. We need a sustained effort."

Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, echoed the state officials' complaints, saying: "There's a disconnect between the rhetoric about what's needed and the resources on the table. This is the mother of all unfunded mandates."

The Washington Post reports about the plan here.  Here is the government's avian flu website,[bm]

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