As legislation expediting research and development of drugs and vaccines to be used in bioterrorist attacks came closer to becoming law, a report released last week said a lack of funding for bioterror preparedness is further stressing trauma centers already in dire financial straits.
Against the backdrop of the continuing conflict in Iraq and an ever-present domestic threat of terrorism, the push to develop countermeasures against bioterrorism took a major step forward last week when the Senate unanimously passed a 10-year $5.6 billion package to make more treatments against bioterrorist attacks available to the public.
A report by the National Foundation for Trauma Care, however, found that "despite the crisis trauma centers are facing, federal funds have not flowed to trauma centers to ensure their availability and preparedness for mass trauma events."
Senate passage of the bill creating Project BioShield, 99-0, came almost a year after the House passed similar legislation 421-2. One of two things can happen next-a House-Senate conference committee can negotiate a compromise bill incorporating elements from both versions of the bill, or the House may vote on the Senate bill. A spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said, however, that the two bills are nearly identical and the House may opt to take the second choice.
The House is out this week for the Memorial Day recess and House leaders have not yet decided which step to take but said they would act quickly to get a bill to President Bush, the spokeswoman said.
"America is more secure today because we have placed a strong emphasis on homeland defense, and initiatives like Project BioShield are another important step in winning the war on terror," Bush said in a statement.
The legislation seeks to encourage drug manufacturers to develop treatments and vaccines against potential bioterror agents such as smallpox, anthrax and Ebola by ensuring that the government will purchase such treatments. Manufacturers had been concerned that there would be no market for such drugs. It also would allow the government to use such treatments in emergencies without first having to go through the normal approval process.
The legislation does not provide funding to hospitals, and the American Hospital Association said it had no position on the bill.
But in applauding the bill, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for greater resources to be directed to hospitals for bioterror response. "Even the best new treatments for biological weapons will do little good if our emergency rooms are so overburdened that doctors and nurses cannot deliver effective care," he said. Project BioShield is "a large step in the right direction, but without a commitment to adequately funding our hospitals and health agencies, genuine preparedness and effective homeland security, we will still be far from what is needed."
Meawhile, a report from the National Foundation for Trauma Care, or NFTC, said that in 2003, trauma centers lost a total of $1 billion. In a written statement to Modern Healthcare, Connie Potter, executive director of the foundation, said, "The NFTC supports all efforts to fully prepare our nation for bioterrorism, but we think it is also imperative to fully prepare for blast attack terrorism resulting in mass trauma, which to date has largely been ignored."