March 08, 2012

Gillibrand Announces Senate Passage of Biodefense Bill to Strengthen U.S. Response to Disease Outbreaks, Bioterrorism

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan biodefense bill last night that will help strengthen the United States’ response to a future bioattack or disease outbreak. The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act Reauthorization of 2011 will equip federal agencies and hospitals with the necessary tools to prepare for and adequately respond to a wide range of public health emergencies, from natural pandemics to bioterror threats. Since last year, Senator Gillibrand has fought to reauthorize legislation to help ensure America’s emergency preparedness. 

“Bioterrorism and a major outbreak of infectious disease is one of the most deadly, imminent threats we face,” Senator Gillibrand said. “We can’t afford to wait for the next outbreak to occur to get serious with a real plan to protect our families. This must be a national security priority – with investments in prevention and preparedness, research for lifesaving vaccines, and arming our country with a health care workforce ready to take action and save lives in the event of an outbreak.” 

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more than 600,000 Americans. Public health experts agree the time is overdue for another pandemic of that scale, and one far more deadly than the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010. 

The threat of infectious disease stretches beyond naturally occurring outbreaks. Hostile nations and terrorist networks have greater access to biochemical weapons today than ever before. Pathogens required to construct bioweapons exist in nature and are readily available on the Internet. Reports indicate al Qaeda began a bioweapons program in Afghanistan and Malaysia in the late 1990s. 

In the event of a pandemic flu outbreak of today, estimates of nearly 180,000 New Yorkers would potentially be infected, based on data from the Department of Homeland Security. 

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act includes these major public health programs:

  • The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which provides an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies. BARDA also manages Project BioShield, which includes the procurement and advanced development of medical countermeasures for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents, including those for pandemic influenza. 
  • The National Health Security Strategy, which streamlines the patchwork of disparate public health and medical preparedness, response, and recovery strategies in order to ensure that the nation is prepared for, protected from, and resilient in the face of health threats or incidents with potentially negative health consequences.