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Location: Washington, DC




S. 969. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act with respect to preparation for an influenza pandemic, including an avian influenza pandemic, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today I am introducing the Attacking Viral Influenza Across Nations Act of 2005, or the AVIAN Act.

The Nation is becoming increasingly aware of the very serious threat we face from avian flu. This virus is found primarily in chickens, ducks, and other birds. Despite major efforts to eradicate this virus, the virus has become endemic in poultry and birds in some countries and is spreading rapidly in others. Humans can contract the virus when they come into contact with infected birds, and when this happens, the consequences are often deadly. Of the 88 humans infected with avian influenza in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, only 37 have survived.

Right now, avian flu is thought to only pass from birds to humans. However, doctors and scientists have expressed the very real concern that this virus will mutate into a form that can spread easily from human to human. If this happens, the world could face its next pandemic, which could cause more illness and death than virtually any other natural health threat.

The Nation experienced 3 pandemics in the 20th Century--the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, the Asian flu pandemic in 1957, and the Hong Kong flu pandemic in 1968. The Spanish flu pandemic was the most severe, causing over 500,000 deaths in the United States and more than 20 million deaths worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that up to 207,000 Americans could die, and up to 734,000 could be hospitalized during the next pandemic. The costs of the pandemic, including the medical costs and the costs associated with infected Americans being unable to work and dying early, are estimated at between $71 billion and $166.5 billion. These costs do not include the impact of a pandemic on commerce and society. On February 21, 2005, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the CDC, discussed the possibility of a pandemic and stated that ``this is a very ominous situation for the globe . . . the most important threat that we are facing right now.''

We are in a race against time. The Nation's health officials have made some progress in preparing for pandemic influenza. Yet, we have much work to do. The Department of Health and Human Services has not released its final pandemic preparedness plan nor have about half of the states. A survey by the Association of State and Public Health Laboratory Directors found that 20 percent of States had no State public health laboratory capacity to isolate viruses, and 25 percent reported no ability to subtype influenza isolates.

We know antivirals can prevent flu infection and treat those already infected, but we have not stockpiled enough doses to cover even the high-risk populations. We need more research to improve the effectiveness and the safety of vaccines against avian flu and other strains. Many of our hospital emergency rooms and clinics are already bursting at the seams, and it is unclear how they would care for a dramatically increased influx of patients during a pandemic.

The AVIAN Act is a comprehensive measure to deal with an influenza pandemic by emphasizing domestic and international cooperation and collaboration. It creates a high-level inter-agency policy coordinating committee tasked with creating an integrated plan for the nation, with attention to health, agriculture, commerce, transportation, and international relations. Similarly, states are required to finalize pandemic preparedness plans that address surveillance, medical care, workforce, communication, and maintenance of core public functions. Private health providers and hospitals will play a critical role in diagnosing and treating their patients for flu, and this bill provides grants to make sure their efforts and information networks are coordinated with those by the state. Health and veterinary officials are encouraged to work with our international partners on all of these initiatives.

This bill provides for a public education and awareness campaign and health professional training for a pandemic. The CDC is tasked with researching communication strategies, and developing and implementing a public, non-commercial, and non-competitive broadcast system. The NIH is required to expand and intensify its research on vaccines, antivirals, and other protective measures. An economics advisory committee is established to assess and make recommendations on how to finance pandemic preparedness, while minimizing its economic impact.

Finally, the AVIAN Act provides for an Institute of Medicine study to study the legal, ethical, and social implications of pandemic influenza. Americans may be asked to isolate themselves, to stay home from work, to share their medical diagnoses, and to take certain medications. All of these actions may be critical in preventing millions of Americans from getting sick, spreading disease, and dying. Yet, we must make sure that we are fully cognizant of how these decisions will affect the rights of every American.

We face a terrible threat from pandemic avian influenza, and we must not squander the opportunity before us to plan and prepare. In endorsing the AVIAN Act, the Trust for America's Health states: ``The avian flu is a real and dangerous threat to the health to our nation and the world. If the virus mutates slightly, we could have a million Americans hit by the first wave of a pandemic.''


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