...As Congress Gives Mixed Response

DECEMBER 01, 2005

The Bush administration's plan for a pandemic flu gave Congress an opportunity to criticize health officials about why it has taken so long and about their spending priorities. Government health officials began working on a plan in 1991.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said that the 1997 outbreak of the avian flu in Hong Kong was a warning for the future. Because the flu is spreading throughout Asia and in Europe, health officials are concerned.

Sen Tom Harkin (D, Iowa) took issue with state governments being forced to buy close to 31 million doses of antiviral drugs planned for the national stockpile. The plan calls for states to pay up to 75% of the cost of those drugs. Although Leavitt backed the flu plan, he said that state contributions could be negotiated. Of the $7.1-billion appropriation the Bush administration is requesting, $100 million would be allocated to state and local health departments to help them complete their own flu plans. Critics argue the amount is not sufficient.