Obama administration announces major review of public health defenses

Plans have been announced by a top Obama administration official to proceed with a major review of the federal government's policies for developing public health defenses.

The review follows problems that have arisen with the nation's swine flu vaccination campaign and other shortcomings that have been found in the preparedness process.

The swine flu vaccine shortage, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, highlighted the nation's current dependence no antiquated technology.

"Under the review I've announced today, we'll look for the fastest ways to move to new technologies that will let us quickly produce countermeasures that are more dependable and more robust," Sebelius told the American Medical Association's Third National Congress on Health System Readiness. "Not just for flu and not just for infectious diseases, but for all the public health threats we face today."

Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, will lead the review, which Sebelius expects to be completed by early next year.

In announcing the review, Sebelius also said that the wide range of public health threats, including anthrax delivered by mail or a dirty bomb set off in a population center, are increasingly becoming public health threats.

Sebelius added that the nation's ability to respond to those threats is dependant upon having enough hospital beds, emergency rooms and equipments including masks and ventilators as well as on having diagnostic tests, medications and vaccines.

Countermeasures to fight these public health threats, however, can take years to discover, develop, manufacture and distribute, Sebelius noted, adding that long-term investments in countermeasures are integral to the nation's ability to protect its citizens.