by Dr. Barbara Price
Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism: US Congressional Bills and Reports — and Progress?
In December 2008, the US Congress Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism released the World at Risk Report, which cited several concerns about the US and the world’s lack of preparedness to respond to terrorist use of WMD. The summary was “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.” The Commission had thirteen recommendations and noted the risk of biological agent use was deemed a greater risk than either nuclear or chemical agent use. Several bills and reports have followed to show commitment:
• September 2009: US Senate introduces WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009
• October 2009: Congressional Commission issues a progress report “The Clock is Ticking” with four major areas of concern; and,
• by December 2009, other bills were also introduced which had some overlapping areas
• January 2010: to emphasize the importance of reducing risks, the Congressional Commission issues a “Report Card” on progress both the President and Congress had made since the December 2008 report.
• June 2010: The WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010 (HR 5498) was introduced into the US House of Representatives as a companion to the Senate bill of last October. The goal of both bills is to meet the recommendations made in the World at Risk report.
There are 82 "select agents" -- pathogens and biological toxins, such as anthrax, declared to pose a severe threat to human or animal health by the Health and Human Services and Agriculture departments. The Senate Bill would divide these into three tiers, with facilities also “tiered” to deal with their security. This may reduce some government security requirements for laboratories dealing with biological agents and not doing research in the first two tiers.
The Report Card noted: the Bush Administration had requested $969 million in additional funding for BARDA, whose mission is to make sure the US is prepared with drugs and medical countermeasures for CBR, which could have been incorporated into the stimulus funding but was not. The report said the Obama Administration's request for BARDA in FY 2010 was only $305 million. The Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center received funding to look at requirements to develop medical countermeasures and get them through FDA approval. Their estimate was $3.39 billion per year in medical countermeasure development support to achieve a 90 percent probability of developing an FDA-licensed countermeasure for each of those requirements. The requirements include vaccines and antitoxins or antivirals, anthrax, filovirus, smallpox virus, Junin virus, and two broad spectrum antibiotics (one for gram positive and one for gram negative bacteria). The Report Card decided the US could do with only $1.7 billion as a “reasonable and sound investment” considering the threat these agents pose.
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