Expert testifies on need for bioweapon preparedness

During a series of testimonies for the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications on Wednesday, Richard J. Hatchett spoke on the efforts to prepare for CBRN-related threats.

Hatchett, the chief medical officer and deputy director for strategic scientists and management of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, discussed both preparation and prevention of chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear threats to the nation.

"The threats that our nation faces continue to evolve, and we know that we cannot identify and characterize them all in advance,” Hatchett said. “It is critical that we have the capability, as a nation, to be resilient when disaster strikes – and to be resilient, we must be able to respond quickly and effectively to all disasters with the appropriate resources necessary to limit casualties and disruptions to communities."

The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response’s office builds public health partnerships with federal agencies and departments, Hatchett said, while the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority operates within the ASPR and is responsible for developing and procuring effective and safe medical countermeasures against CBRN threats along with influenza and infectious diseases. BARDA works with HHS partners at various governmental organizations to ensure there are medical countermeasures to protect lives during a CBRN event.

Project BioShield was established in 2004 to procure anthrax vaccines and therapeutics, heptavalent botulinum antitoxin and smallpox vaccine.

Hatchett proposed using $476 million left over from the project in 2011 and $765 million in 2012 to fund the Advanced Research and Development of BARDA to bridge the funding gap between early stages of product development and the procurement of approvable medical countermeasures.

Hatchett said that other BARDA projects, including leading an integrated portfolio for CBRN Medical Countermeasures, an active TechWatch program, the Concept Acceleration Program and the MCM Enterprise Review. Hatchett said that he hopes these important programs for attempting to protect the country from CBRN threats can remain properly funded in the current budget environment.

“In closing, I want to reiterate that as the threats we face evolve, we will continue to work closely with our colleagues at DHS, DoD, and across government to ensure that our investments are rational and sustainable,” Hatchett said. “We understand the importance of thorough surveillance and early detection to limit the impact of a CBRN event and will continue to work closely with our partners to build upon existing infrastructure and align supporting investments and capabilities.”