"At this moment there is no pandemic influenza in the United States or the world. But if history is our guide, there's reason to be concerned," Mr. Bush said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health. "Scientists and doctors cannot tell us where or when the next pandemic will strike or how severe it will be. But most agree, at some point we are likely to face another pandemic."
The president also said the government must approve liability protection for the makers of lifesaving vaccines.
In the past three decades, the number of vaccine manufacturers in America has plummeted as the industry has been flooded with lawsuits," the president said. "Today there's only one manufacturer in the United States that can produce influenza vaccine."
The administration strategy includes:
- $1.2 billion for the government to buy enough doses of the vaccine against the current strain of bird flu to protect 20 million Americans;
- $1 billion to stockpile more anti-viral drugs that lessen the severity of the flu symptoms;
- $2.8 billion to speed the development of vaccines as new strains emerge, a process that now takes months;
- $583 million for states and local governments to prepare emergency plans to respond to an outbreak.
President Bush pointed out that the 1918 pandemic killed over a half million Americans and more than 20 million people across the globe. "One-third of the U.S. population was infected, and life expectancy in our country was reduced by 13 years.
"The 1918 pandemic was followed by pandemics in 1957 and 1968, which killed tens of thousands of Americans and millions across the world," Mr. Bush said.
More than 40 percent of doctors surveyed believe the government and the health care industry are unprepared to deal with a bird flu outbreak, according to a nationwide survey of doctors.
"Physicians had about the same degree of concern for the preparation of the medical community as they did for the federal government," Prof. Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania told CBS News correspondent Peter Maer.