New report examines gaps in bioterror preparedness

TFAH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released "Remembering 9/11 and Anthrax: Public Health's Vital Role in National Defense," which examined the gaps in public health preparedness, including firsthand accounts from officials, clinicians and doctors.

"Public health officials were at the lead of the anthrax response - diagnosing and treating victims and running more than a million tests on 125,000 potentially life-threatening samples around the country in a short period of time," the report says. "These officials were often working without adequate resources or training to respond to these types of attacks and had limited knowledge of the science involved in weaponized anthrax and how widely it was dispersed through the U.S. mail system. This was truly the first time public health came to be viewed as central to emergency response and national security on a wide-scale basis.
The report found that key areas of progress included improvements in preparedness planning, coordination, vaccine manufacturing, the Strategic National Stockpile, legal and liability protections, increasing and upgrading staff, and surge capacity. The report noted gaps that include major recent budget cuts, a gap in trained public health workers, a lack of an integrated, national approach to biosurveillance, and gaps in vaccine and pharmaceutical research, development and manufacturing.
"My biggest concern is that the country is getting complacent and we might be losing focus on the importance of being prepared," Dr. Segaran Pillai, the chief medical and science advisor for the Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security, said in the report. "We, as a nation, invested in building an infrastructure to ensure that the public health program is better prepared to respond to a biological attack. As time passes without an event and the budget continues to shrink, so does our ability to be fully prepared."