President Bush unveiled a $7.1 billion strategy to address the potential for pandemic influenza, although no such pandemic currently exists among humans. The three-prong strategy includes an aggressive timetable for developing and stockpiling vaccines; better global and domestic monitoring; and updating federal, state and local emergency plans. Much of the money Bush requested from Congress would go toward modernizing the nation's vaccination programs -- $2.8 billion to accelerate the development of cell-culture technology and more than $2.5 billion for the development and stockpiling of vaccines and antiviral medications. Speaking at the National Institutes of Health, Bush said the strategy would serve not only as a preventive strike against bird flu, but also would bolster the nation's ability to react and respond to terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.
Trust for America's Health, Washington, a group that promotes disease prevention, said that the plan is a step in the right direction, but "significant gaps remain." For example, states would be required to cover one-third of the costs for antiviral medications, said Laura Segal, the group's director of public affairs. Also, the $100 million earmarked to boost states' preparedness falls short of what's needed, Segal said. So far, there have been no reported cases of avian flu in the U.S. but there have been 120 reported human cases worldwide since 1997. The virus has killed about half of those infected. More than 140 million birds in 16 countries have been killed to help control the spread of the virus. -- by Matthew DoBias