STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - October 05, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about a critical issue--the possibility of an avian influenza pandemic.
When I started talking about this 7 months ago, not too many folks paid attention. Perhaps because the shorthand for this looming crisis is the ``bird flu,'' people assume it is just going to get birds and animals sick.
In reality, however, what is at stake here is the potential of a pandemic that we have not seen in the United States since 1918. As has already been stated, our top scientists and medical personnel, including the heads of the NIH, CDC, and the Department of Health and Human Services, all agree that it is almost inevitable that an avian flu pandemic will strike.
The key question is the extent of the damage, especially in terms of lives lost. The answer to this question will, in large measure, depend on our level of preparedness and the amount of resources we are willing to immediately commit to deal with this looming crisis.
After Katrina, I hope we all learned a lesson about the critical value of preparedness.
I rise today to introduce, along with Senators Reid, Bayh, and Kennedy, S. 1821, legislation that dramatically enhances the ability of the United States and international community to prevent and respond to an avian flu pandemic.
The bill we are introducing today--the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Act or PPRA--incorporates much of my AVIAN Act, and has a number of new and important provisions, that will protect Americans from pandemic flu.
The PPRA establishes leadership at the very top level by requiring the President to name a national director for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, who will sit in the executive office. This director will be in charge of all preparedness and response activities at the national level, including coordinating the activities and programs of each Federal agency.
It is not enough for the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security to be ready; we must have a commerce plan, a transportation plan, a diplomatic plan aimed at our foreign partners, and a plan for our military personnel and veterans.
We have asked this director to procure enough antivirals to cover 50 percent of the populations, and sufficient vaccines and other supplies we need for the Strategic National Stockpile. The director will also create a national tracking and distribution system to ensure the fair and equitable allocation of drugs and vaccines when the pandemic strikes.
On the State level, we have asked the Director of the CDC and HRSA to work with States and give them the help they need to make sure they are ready to respond as well. Our success at preventing or containing an outbreak of avian flu will depend on the preparedness of our State and local partners.
Understanding that international collaboration and cooperation is key to surveillance and quick response, we have created an international pandemic fund, and requested the Secretary of State develop and implement a diplomatic policy aimed at the Southeast and East Asian countries. Senator Lugar and I have been hard at work on this last point for months.
Finally, we recognize that this Nation will never have enough vaccines, or the ability to produce sufficient vaccines, if we don't create the incentives for more drug manufacturers to get into the vaccine business. We just have three domestic flu vaccine manufacturers, and that is unacceptable. This bill authorizes the Secretary to enhance vaccine production capacity by creating a guaranteed market for seasonal flu vaccine through a Federal buyback program for unsold doses of seasonal flu vaccine. It also increases public education and outreach activities for Americans, to stimulate demand for the seasonal flu vaccine.
An outbreak of the avian flu could occur in a year, 5 years, 10 years, or if we were incredibly lucky not happen at all. But the one good thing about investing in measures to deal with this looming crisis is--and I will end on this point--if we spend the money now, it will pay dividends, even if this particular strain of the avian flu outbreak does not occur.
Why is this the case?
This is not--no pun intended--a case of Chicken Little.
The risk of some sort of pandemic, and the mutations of flus for which we have no immunity, is almost inevitable. The H5N1 strain may not be the strain that leads to a full blown pandemic. But, another strain could easily come along and cause serious damage in the future.
My point is this: undertaking these measures is going to be a wise investment that will help protect the lives of millions of people here in the United States and across the globe. This legislation gets at the heart of this issue.