Press Release

New Report Gives U.S. Failing Grade on Preparedness On Tenth Anniversary of Anthrax Attacks – Gillibrand Announces Strategy to Strengthen Biosecurity

Oct 18, 2011

Washington, D.C. – After a new report on the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks concludes the threat of infectious disease and bioterrorism outweighs the threat of nuclear attack, and the U.S. is currently inadequately prepared to prevent and respond to a large-scale outbreak of infectious disease, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing a new strategy to strengthen America’s biosecurity. According to a report card released last week by the WMD Center, the United States receives failing grades for detection and analysis, attribution, and medical countermeasure availability, dispensing and management of infectious disease. 

Senator Gillibrand’s plan protects funding for pandemic prevention and preparedness efforts, makes targeted investments into research for vaccines, and increases America’s health care workforce to ensure our readiness to respond to outbreaks.

“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 one of our highest priorities for our national security – 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.

  • In New York City, an estimate of more than 75,000 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In Western New York, an estimate of more than 13,200 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, an estimate of more than 11,700 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In Central New York, an estimate of more than 10,600 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In the Southern Tier, an estimate of 5,100 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In the Capital Region, an estimate of nearly 10,600 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In the North Country, an estimate of nearly 4,600 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • In the Hudson Valley, an estimate of more than 21,000 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
  • On Long Island, an estimate of more than 26,000 people could potentially be infected in the event of a pandemic outbreak.

Senator Gillibrand’s Plan to Strengthen Biosecurity

Public Health Workforce Trained for Outbreak Response
The National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) is America’s only federally coordinated system that provides support services for state and local medical response agencies that have been overwhelmed during major emergencies and federally declared disasters, including the 9-11 attacks and anthrax attacks of 2001; major transportation accidents, including American Airlines Flight 587 crash in Queens; and natural disasters, including Hurricane Irene. The NDMS can deploy up to 7,000 volunteer and full-time health care providers, and allied health professionals to provide critical care services. There are 100 teams capable of responding within 24 hours and are self-sufficient, with supplies and equipment, for the first 72 hours of a declared disaster. 

NDMS expired on September 30, and without it, state and local medical response agencies will be unable to meet future needs during major crises.

Senator Gillibrand is introducing legislation to reauthorize the NDMS to ensure America is armed with a highly skilled and trained workforce ready to respond to the outbreak of an infectious disease. NDMS consists of three key functions:

  1. Medical response, including assessments of health and medical needs, primary and emergency medical care, health and medical equipment and supplies, victim identification and mortuary services, veterinary services, and other auxiliary services at the site of an emergency through NDMS response teams.
  2. Patient evacuation from a mobilization center near the disaster site to facilities where patients can receive definitive medical care.  This includes communication with federal, State, and local authorities; transportation; and medical care during evacuation.
  3. Definitive medical care consisting of medical treatment or services beyond emergency medical care provided after admission to an NDMS partner hospital or other healthcare facility.  Care can be provided for injuries or illnesses resulting directly from a specified public health emergency, or for injuries, illnesses and conditions requiring a non-deferrable medical treatment or services to maintain health when such medical treatment and services are temporarily not available as a result of the public health emergency.

Reauthorizing Biodefense Legislation
The 2006 Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) that’s responsible for our nation’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies includes measures that will expire this year.

Senator Gillibrand is fighting to reauthorize this legislation to help ensure America’s emergency preparedness, including 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. 

Protecting Biodefense Funding
Recent budget cuts significantly limit our ability to prepare and respond to a pandemic. Federal programs authorized by PAHPA were cut by more than $275 million since 2007, including nearly $200 million cut from the FY2011 budget alone.

Senator Gillibrand is fighting to restore this funding by urging Senate leaders to make it a top priority, protected from partisan politics, to ensure we maintain adequate emergency preparedness and response in the event of a biological attack.

Senator Gillibrand’s full letter to Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Richard Shelby:

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Shelby,

As you prioritize spending in this year’s budget, I urge you to consider the significant national security implications of a major disease outbreak and fully fund programs that would prevent detect, and respond in an emerging disease.  Preventing and responding to a naturally occurring or premeditated pandemic could become a major global crisis affecting our country. It is imperative that Congress provide stable and reliable funding in order to maintain adequate emergency preparedness and response in the event of a biological attack.

Recent budget cuts have seriously curtailed our nation’s capability to prepare and respond to a pandemic.  The programs authorized by the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) have received cuts of over $275 million since 2007, with nearly $200 million from just the FY2011 budget alone.  As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11th, it is critical that the federal government support such life-saving programs.  In a report titled “World at Risk” prepared by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Terrorism, the Commission unanimously concluded that an infectious disease is the most likely WMD threat to the world.  The report specifically said that, “The capability to deter and respond to bioterrorism depends upon the strength of all links in the biodefense chain. Virtually all links are weak and require the highest priority of attention from the Administration and Congress.”  Not meeting the immediate and long-term investment needs or our biodefense programs jeopardizes our public health, our economy, and, most importantly, the safety of our nation.

 An attack, no matter the scale, on any of our major cities will leave the health of our nation in jeopardy and will have an enormous impact on our economy.  After the attacks of September 11th, $83 billion was lost in both financial property and job losses, not including the losses in the foreign equity markets, in tourism and travel, and in consumer attitudes.  Imagine the cost of an attack that affected the entire county. We cannot afford to remain unprepared for another such attack on the United States, especially while we are still recovering from a recession.

I urge you to invest in our nation’s security by funding programs on bio-preparedness.  I look forward to working with you on these important programs. 

Thank you for your consideration.