Medkits could be the future of fighting bioterror

A former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has recently written that facing the problem of bioterrorism will require creative thinking and the ingenuity of the American people.

Tevi Troy, a visiting Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, wrote on that that the United States needs "new ideas and mechanisms of delivery if we want to save American lives."

President Obama briefly mentioned the need for a new plan to address bioterror attacks, with the White House releasing a brief statement afterward that said President Obama would ask "U.S. government leaders to re-design our medical countermeasure enterprise to protect Americans from bioterror or infectious health threats."

The United States currently has a large stockpile of medical countermeasures to fight an attack, including anthrax and smallpox vaccines, placed nationwide in the Strategic National Stockpile. The means of distributing these countermeasures, however, is considered one of the most difficult challenges facing the federal government.

"The Strategic National Stockpile was designed so that officials can direct bulk shipments of countermeasures anywhere in the country within 12 hours," Troy said. "But getting the materials distributed to individuals in a specific community is extremely difficult. For the last five years, the federal government has been experimenting with a variety of distribution methods."

The U.S. Postal Service is one option for delivering vaccines, with President Obama's administration issuing an executive order calling for a national postal service medical countermeasures dispensing model in December.

The drawback for this plan, Troy says, is security. Concern has already been expressed by the postal workers' union about the safety of its members carrying sought-after countermeasures.

Another option is to have individuals go to a specific site to receive vaccines, though this is not the most effective means of distributing countermeasures as it does not target the highest-risk or highest-need individuals by discriminating against those who cannot travel or are disabled.

A third option is home medkits, which would would allow countermeasures to be stored by individuals for home use in a publicly declared health emergency. Vaccines, however, are not typically self-administered and need to be refrigerated at specific temperatures.

Despite their drawbacks, however, Troy said that medkits could be the future of bioterror vaccinations.

"The president's requested redesign of our countermeasure system should continue to develop the concept of home medkits and make them part of the federal distribution arsenal," Troy said.