How Prepared is the U.S. For a Bioterrorism Attack?
In mid-September 2001, a retired Air Force colonel successfully smuggled an anthrax-like substance into the White House. This warning could have sparked a robust new plan to prevent or respond to bioterrorism.
It didn’t, at least according Wil S. Hylton in his new New York Times Magazine feature about the lack of progress the U.S. has made since the post-9/11 anthrax attacks in 2001. Some key points from Hylton’s piece:
+ The anthrax vaccine the government has been stockpiling is old, has side effects and has never been approved for use in children.
+ Attempts to develop new vaccines — for anthrax, in particular — have been mired by funding problems, congressional lobbying and disagreements over whether this type of of vaccine should be prioritized at all.
+ Two recent reports on the U.S. program from two biodefense review boards were “scathing”: One described the program as lacking urgency, coherence, prioritization and synchronization; the other gave the U.S. an “F” for biodefense.
+ There is a lack of leadership at the top: While both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations had some type of a “biodefense czar,” the job has gone unfilled in the Obama administration. Says Randall Larsen, the White House smuggler (and national security expert) mentioned earlier:
Today, there are more than two dozen Senate-confirmed individuals with some responsibility for biodefense. Not one person has it for a full-time job, and no one is in charge.