Two weeks ago--before anthrax reared its ugly head on American soil--the nation's readiness to deal with bioterrorism was characterized this way.
"We are prepared to respond but there is more we can do and must do to strengthen our response," said Tommy Thompson, health and human services secretary, on October 3.
Now, with one person dead and several others infected by the deadly bacteria, there's a new sense of urgency involved in strengthening that response. Today the government asked Congress to spend an additional $1.5 billion in the war against bioterrorism.
Senator Bill Frist (Republican--Tennessee) says, "We need to realize that we are not unprepared, but we are underprepared."
The senator spent his day meeting with emergency management teams in his home state of Tennessee. Frist, a doctor, says recent anthrax attacks have highlighted gaps in the system.
"That money will fill those gaps in the event there's a bio-weapons attack," Frist says.
For example, since the attacks, pharmacy supplies of the antiobiotic Cipro--one of the drugs known to fight anthrax--have been wiped out.
Pharmacist Sebastian Manciameli says, "I have 80 prescriptions I can't fill."
Six hundred forty-three million dollars of the new funding will be spent on beefing up the country's supply of antibiotics, and Bayer, which makes the drug, has agreed to increase production by 25%.
The funding will also help overburdened laboratories. This one in New York City conducted 1,000 tests in the wake of the anthrax case at NBC. The staff has been working around the clock here. More money will mean better, faster technology, more scientists, and more security.
Extra money will also speed up vaccine research and development both for anthrax and smallpox and will help hospitals be better prepared.
But bioterrorism experts like David Siegrist fear $1 billion just isn't enough in the face of this new threat.
"Americans spend $300 billion a year to be defended. I think they're entitled to a defense that defends," says Siegrist.
And as each day brings a new anthrax scare, perhaps the government will come to that conclusion too.
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