Is America Ready For Bio-Terrorism?

CAROUSEL - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., accompanied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to reporters outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Sept. 8, 2009, after a meeting with President Barack Obama about health care reform. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Despite a year and a half of preparations and warnings, the nation's readiness to fight bio-terrorism gets mixed reviews.

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, on some fronts the nation has done well. The Department of Health and Human Services has a new command center and medical response teams have been beefed up under the current state of alert.

Doctors are much better educated about bio-terror agents. They know what anthrax looks like and they know what to do in response. On the whole, the medical community is also more alert now.

But according to David Siegrist, who tracks the nations bio-terror readiness, the devil is in the details. The nation has done well with a big picture plan but is having trouble implementing it.

"In some cases … we're actually worse off than we were a year ago," he says.

In particular, the U.S. is getting poor reports regarding funding: $3.5 billion approved for first responders across the country has been promised and not yet delivered.

Moreover, the smallpox program is off to a slow start. There is enough vaccine but many are resisting taking it because of the risks. Also, there is still no national program in place to compensate people who get sick. This is a huge oversight according to Siegrist.

All the attention paid to smallpox has given other threats short shrift: specifically anthrax, botulinum toxin, ricin and dirty bombs, which are explosive devices that may contain radioactive material.

This Department of Energy Facility in Tennessee is the only place that makes an antidote for dirty bombs. Only last week the FDA asked drug companies to start making more.

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged all Americans to educate themselves about bio-terror attacks with extensive information about protecting themselves and their families.
  • Sue Chan

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