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Officials: Government Well-Prepared for Swine Flu, but Worst Is Yet to Come

By Ben Pershing
A panel of experts reassured senators today that the government was well-prepared to cope with the widening swine flu outbreak, even as they warned that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

At a hastily arranged hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that handles health issues, a quartet of government officials on the front lines of the swine flu battle outlined all that they are doing to contain the crisis, from beginning work on a vaccine to boosting surveillance at the border. But the fight is far from over, they said.

"I do expect more cases, and I expect more states to be affected," said Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for science and public health program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I think we can't assume we'll have as mild illness as we've seen at the beginning of the cases we've detected. I think we really need to be prepared for a worsening of the situation. And it's also important that people realize it's more of a marathon than a sprint here."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the subcommittee chairman, said he called the hearing because "there's a lot of anxiety, understandably so," among the general public, and he wanted to get out as much information as possible. Harkin and his colleagues wanted to know whether the federal agencies in charge of the flu response have all the funding that they need going forward, and the chairman emphasized that his committee has allocated billions of dollars over the years to prepare for just such an event.

"The investments we have made into preparedness are making a difference every day," Schuchat agreed.

In the middle of the hearing, Harkin got word that President Obama had officially asked Congress to include $1.5 billion to combat the swine flu in the upcoming supplemental spending bill, most of which will be devoted to funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure is expected to be taken up by both chambers early next month.

Even before receiving word of Obama's funding request, Harkin said he would "push very hard" to include flu preparedness money in the supplemental measure. Harkin made a point of saying he had helped to insert $870 million into the economic stimulus package for pandemic flu preparedness, money that -- as has been much discussed this week -- was eventually cut from the bill before passage. "I was disappointed that the money was taken out of the recovery package," Harkin said.

Hailing from a state where pig farms are plentiful, Harkin also wanted the hearing to amplify the message that the swine flu outbreak should not make Americans afraid of what they eat. He invited John Clifford, a top official at the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, for that express purpose.

"This is not a food-safety issue. Pork is safe to eat," Clifford said, lamenting that the name of the virus might have mistakenly given people the opposite impression.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) expressed concerns about anti-flu efforts in her own state, where several cases have been confirmed. Hutchison pressed Schuchat on whether increased steps should be put in place to screen people, such as taking their temperature, before they cross the border or board flights from Mexico into the U.S.

Schuchat said repeatedly that additional medical screening wouldn't be effective, and she got agreement from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He pointed out that it can take from 24 hours to five days for swine flu symptoms to appear in someone who has been exposed to the virus, so taking people's temperature at the border would likely be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources.

Fauci said samples of the flu virus had already been sent to some private companies so they could begin initial work on developing a vaccine, but the process will take time.

"Over a period of anywhere from four to six months or so, you may be able to start getting off the assembly a number of doses, so that we might have it ready for people several months from now," Fauci said. Having a vaccine ready will be particularly important next winter, when the regular flu season comes and cases of swine flu might spike.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 28, 2009; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  Purse Strings , Senate  
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Comments

Think we are as prepared as we were for Katrina?

Posted by: lashadow | April 28, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

DECLINE AND FALL OF THE USA
-- a contemporaneous record for Historians

Future historians will wonder why and how the USA Declined and lost its sovereignty to Global Governance.

The Washington Post will likely be one of the last media outlets “Coordinated” in the USA and it currently permits online posting.

While this is permitted contemporaneous reports will be posted, ideally at least once per week, focusing on what was known and what was anticipated at the time.

April 28, 2009

Swine Flu breaks out in Mexico, spreads worldwide in small numbers.

Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano REFUSES to seal the Mexican border to a contagious disease. Even the Mexicans are imposing internal quarantines (restaurants schools etc closed) but Obama Administration is adrift.

Surprisingly, Washington Post and traditional media have widespread factual coverage noting Obama has failed to fill any of the high level Public Health positions, while Obama denies any public health jeopardy due to the vacancies of leadership.

World Health Organization upgrades warning to level 4 of 6, Obama Administration does little, due to lack of any Professional Public Health leadership.

Meanwhile, Barney Frank, not fulfilled at having only destroyed the mortgage industry with fraudulent Fannie Mae loans, seeks to totally destroy US Dollar as world reserve currency by agreeing to let the IMF sell Gold contributed by USA.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania becomes the Benedict Arnold of Global Governance, switching to Dem party for a 60 vote filibuster proof Dem majority.

Loss of US economic and political sovereignty under Obama is increasing at an accelerating rate.

Obama does not realize that he is just a placeholder until a European leader emerges.

Posted by: JaxMax | April 28, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

How can they state their prepared if they don't even posses a cure? That's like saying you won but came in last. I just don't get it. So much for Obama's transparent Gov. Same lies, same BS.

Posted by: askgees | April 28, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"How can they state their prepared if they don't even posses a cure? That's like saying you won but came in last. I just don't get it. So much for Obama's transparent Gov. Same lies, same BS.

Posted by: askgees | April 28, 2009 5:25 PM "

"They're" now responsible for curing the flu?!? LMAO
What you don't know about epidemiology and viruses notwithstanding, where did you get the expectation that the President is responsible for curing communicable diseases? The flu comes back every single year; do you blame former presidents for not previously curing it?

They will know him by the confederacy of dunces who rise in opposition...

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | April 28, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

The government rolled the dice and bet that this wont become a pandemic, so they could fail to seal the borders and limit movement internally to slow the spread of the disease. DHS lied, the antivirals they store wont do anything to this flu, they might as well hand out sugar pills. The time for action is at a close. If they guessed wrong this thing will bloom throughout the general population almost overnight, and it will be too late. Once the health system is overwhelmed we'll all be on our own to live or die as the disease sees fit. Lets just pray the government bet right.

Posted by: nuke41 | April 28, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Obama requested $1.5 billion to combat the swine flu, most of which will be devoted to funding for IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN.

What?!?!? You have GOT TO BE kidding...when i first heard $1.5b, I assumed it was for US medical research and preparedness...figured it was a way to justify an existing budget....

But for Iraq and Afghanistan?!?! We have a couple hundred cases outside of Mexico...and, hello, an economic crisis here. Remember the news before Swine flu and Spector took over?!?!?

I just can't believe how much we - as a nation - spend, spend, spend.... priorities, man...priorities... are the american people simply an ATM to you?!?

Posted by: houstongirlie | April 28, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse


"Obama requested $1.5 billion to combat the swine flu, most of which will be devoted to funding for IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN. "

What?!?!? You have GOT TO BE kidding...when i first heard $1.5b, I assumed it was for US medical research and preparedness...figured it was a way to justify an existing budget....

But for Iraq and Afghanistan?!?! We have a couple hundred cases outside of Mexico...and, hello, an economic crisis here. Remember the news before Swine flu and Spector took over?!?!?

I just can't believe how much we - as a nation - spend, spend, spend.... priorities, man...priorities... are the american people simply an ATM to you?!?

Posted by: houstongirlie | April 28, 2009 8:44 PM

What you read:
"Obama requested $1.5 billion to combat the swine flu, most of which will be devoted to funding for IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN. "

What it said:
"In the middle of the hearing, Harkin got word that President Obama had officially asked Congress to include $1.5 billion to combat the swine flu in the upcoming supplemental spending bill, most of which will be devoted to funding for Iraq and Afghanistan."

What it meant:
The supplemental spending bill would mostly be devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, not the $1.5billion. The $1.5billion will be part of the supplemental spending bill not devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan. The $1.5billion will be spent here.


Posted by: lostinthemiddle | April 28, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

"They will know him by the confederacy of dunces..."

CLASSIC! I LOVE IT!

I feel that the WHO should move to curtail the influx of crossings at the borders. They should quickly work on developing a vaccine and share that with Mexico. Stemming it at the source (?) would be the right thing to do. I know by experience that the above would financially impact border towns such as Laredo, El Paso, Del Rio and Brownsville, but desperate measures are needed here.

In the meantime, our family will not venture into people-filled events and will have many dinners at home, which is just as well. Our ventures will also be localized, as traveling seems to put all of us at risk for the time being.

Posted by: olgaolivia | April 29, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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