Bush on Tuesday is visiting the National Institutes of Health to announce his administration's strategy on how to prepare for the next flu pandemic, whether it's caused by the bird flu in Asia or some other super strain of influenza. The president will ask Congress for unspecified new money to fund a buildup of infrastructure ready to deal with any pandemic, said a senior administration official, who spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity. Stockpiling drugs and vaccines is just one component. How to provide food supplies, everyday medical care for people who don't have the super-flu, basic utilities and even security must be part of the plan, said Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, an infectious disease specialist who has advised the government on preparations for the next worldwide flu outbreak.
Concern is growing that the bird flu could trigger a pandemic if it mutates and starts spreading easily among people. Already the government is buying $162.5 million worth of vaccine against that bird flu strain, called H5N1, from two companies -- Sanofi-Aventis and Chiron Corp. -- in case that happens. It also is ordering millions of doses of Tamiflu and Relenza, two antiflu drugs believed to offer some protection against the bird flu.
Lawmakers angry at months of delay have already given Bush money to begin those preparations: $8 billion in emergency funding that the Senate, pushed by Democrats, passed on Thursday -- and an amount considered close to what federal health officials will need.
The money is to be spent at the president's discretion, but senators said it should be used both for medications and vaccine and for beefing up hospitals and other systems to detect and contain a super-flu.