- Jim Talent and Bob Graham question America's preparedness for biological event

America's response to the H1N1 flu has shown that the nation is not prepared to deal with such a pandemic, experts have said.

To deal with the H1N1 flu, the United States relied on a 60-year-old production method based on chicken eggs to create a flu vaccine. That method, it was learned, led to multiple manufacturing issues that eventually led to the recall of 800,000 children's vaccines doses that had diminished potency.

Additionally, the nation's disease surveillance system doesn't provide useful information about an epidemic, including the severity of illness, transmission rates and spread of disease in communities.

The method for diagnosing cases of H1N1 has also been found to be outdated, with diagnostic technologies too difficult, expensive and time-consuming. Rapid tests, therefore, need to be made available to allow those afflicted to receive treatment sooner.

It is believed that, despite the effort of public health and healthcare workers and the multiple problems that arose during the H1N1 outbreak, the nation is more prepared to respond to a flu outbreak than it is to a manmade biological attack.

Bob Graham and Jim Talent, the leaders of the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, said in a recent Washington Post editorial have said that it is likely that a biological weapon of mass destruction will be used somewhere by 2013.

"We can anticipate the likely pathogens terrorists would use, but this information is meaningless if we do not have the stockpiles, medical countermeasures and tested plans for distributing them to affected areas," Graham and Talent wrote. "Terrorists will not give us six months' warning before deploying a biological weapon."

Graham and Talent noted, however, that the means to develop and stockpile countermeasures to such an attack exist, though they said that they can only be created through a collaboration between the private sector and the government.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has announced a major review of the nation's capabilities to develop and distribute countermeasures to an attack, a step Graham and Talent called the first in a "journey to full preparedness."

"The necessary investment of public funds is relatively modest. What has been in short supply is leadership. The announced review is a good first step. But will real action follow, and will it happen in time?"