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Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2005 - Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise to offer amendment No. 440 on behalf of myself, Senator Bingaman, and Senator Carper to fully protect the health of our military personnel. Let me explain. The military regularly protects our troops by vaccinating them. There are vaccines to keep personnel healthy in the face of common illnesses like the flu and to protect them from biological warfare agents such as anthrax or smallpox.

These force protection measures are important. Equally important is the recognition that not every person will react positively to a vaccination.

Vaccines, even those generally considered safe, are still drugs put into the body. There will always be a small number of personnel whose bodies have an adverse reaction to a safe vaccine. In order to deal with this, the Vaccine Health Care Centers Network was established in 2001.

The centers act as a specialized medical unit that can provide the best possible clinical care to any military member, active duty, Guard or Reserve, or their family that has a severe reaction. They also advise the Department of Defense regarding vaccine administration policies and educate military health care professionals regarding the safest and best practices for vaccine administration. Their overall mission is to promote vaccine safety and provide expert knowledge to patients and physicians.

Why is this so important? As many of my colleagues know, the number of adults who get regular vaccines is fairly small. While we have specialists who deal with childhood vaccinations and problems that might develop, the population of adults regularly vaccinated with anything more than the flu vaccine is small.

In the military, the reverse is true. Military personnel are regularly vaccinated for travel, for threats relating to their theater of operation, and for thinks such as the flu.

For this reason, it is essential that the military have a centralized place to capture the information on those who experience severe problems. In particular, because serious problems are rare, it is difficult for the average base physician to develop the expertise needed to provide the best treatment.

Let me give my colleagues more specifics.

In fiscal year 2004, the centers responded to over 120,000 emails and other consultation inquiries.

They managed over 600 cases of prolonged adverse events, which means literally over 58,000 pages of medical information reviewed. These are very complex and specialized medical cases. They require personnel with expertise and the ability to dedicate significant time.

Since beginning operations in 2001, the total number of cases managed through fiscal year 2004 is 1,341.

Without the centers, that is over one thousand military personnel who would not have gotten the care they deserve. The best possible care we can provide.

In addition to providing care and consultative services, the centers developed clinical guidelines and aids for physicians and nurses giving vaccines. Over 28,000 immunization ``tool kits'' were distributed. They have also provided ongoing education at bases through lectures and training.

In addition, they have worked collaboratively with outside researchers to get the best possible analysis of the trends in cases that they do see.

This has all been done by an extremely small staff--only one full-time doctor, three nurse practitioners, and five educators and support staff at each of the four regional facilities. The value and medical services they have provided to the entire military family--Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard--has been extraordinary.

Military personnel and their dependents are more confident in the vaccination programs and reports from those who do suffer adverse reactions are extremely positive regarding the care they now get from the centers.

Why do we need to provide $6 million on the emergency supplemental for this? The reason is simple. The centers are in danger of losing part of their funding this fiscal year. They are currently funded with Army global war on terror money.

I applaud the Army for recognizing the need for the centers and providing those funds from their wartime allocation. But the Army is only the executive agent for what is a defense-wide service. They cannot be the sole funder. I am very concerned that the funding this year is being redirected because other services have not budgeted for the centers' work, despite the fact that 46 percent of their cases were related to Air Force, Navy, and Marines personnel.

Clearly, force protection in this time of war demands a good vaccination program. Equally clear, that program must include quality care for those who suffer adverse events in every service, not just the Army.

In addition, as we look ahead, we all anticipate a growing need for biological defenses, particularly vaccines. We established Project BioShield for that very reason.

At this point, there is no civilian equivalent to the Vaccine Health Care Centers Network, but I think we are going to need to consider setting up some collaborative effort to take advantage of their knowledge should a mass civilian inoculation become necessary.

Let me also remind my colleagues that the Department of Defense asked for and received an emergency authority from the Department of Health and Human Services to begin administering the anthrax vaccine.

I will not go into the technicalities of that, but it basically allows the military to vaccinate personnel with informed consent. If the Department believes it is an emergency to resume that vaccine, how can we consider preserving the Vaccine Health Care Centers any less?

At the end of the day, this is very simple. We simply cannot mandate that military personnel take these vaccines and then abandon them when a problem arises.

This is the same as providing a prosthesis to someone who loses a limb.

If military personnel are injured because of their service to this Nation, we have an absolute obligation to give them the best possible care. Anything less is unconscionable.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

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