Bioterrorism experts criticize cuts in BioShield to pay for teacher retention

be tens if not hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily killed,” Graham said. “We know what to do to reduce the impact of a biological attack, but thus far we have been unwilling to implement those steps.”

Graham said he would lobby the White House to restore the funds.

Nine years after envelopes of powdered anthrax killed five people and shut down the Capitol, the U.S. remains poorly equipped to distribute antibiotics in time to prevent mass deaths in the event of a large dispersal of the deadly pathogen, Robert Kadlec, a physician and former Air Force special operations officer who was President George W. Bush’s bioterrorism advisor, told Dilanian. Obama has not yet named his successor.

It is incomprehensible to think that an administration and a Congress that is fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen — some of whom are trying to obtain and use biological weapons against the U.S.— would eliminate monies dedicated to make us better prepared,” Kadlec said.

The BioShield fund was set up in 2004 with $5.6 billion to be spent over ten years. So far, $2 billion has been spent.

Obey spokesman Ellis Brachman said, “It’s been nearly a year since any [money was spent] in the program, and in the meantime we’ve got to address the issue of teachers being laid off across the country.”

Stewart Baker, who was policy chief at DHS from 2005 to 2009, agreed that the program had not been as effective as it needed to be, “but it’s more effective than not having any funding, which is sort of where we are now.”

The proposed cut “reflects a decision to focus on the immediate and to downplay the risk of a really disastrous attack, and I think that’s a mistake.”

The White House has threatened to veto the House bill — because it cut money from Obama’s education initiative, not because of the bioterrorism rescissions.

BioShield has demonstrated limited success in providing incentive for private sector developers and has not provided a robust pipeline of medical countermeasures,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told Dilanian in an e-mail.

Shapiro defended the Obama administration’s actions on bioterrorism. The White House is working on a plan rapidly to distribute drugs through the U.S. Postal Service in case of an attack, he said, and trying to boost development of new drugs and medicines to counteract biological weapons.

The immediate distribution of drugs is crucial to saving lives in an attack’s aftermath, and it is one of the biggest problems, experts say. For example, most people could be saved after anthrax exposure if they could get antibiotics within forty-eight hours, but under the current scenario it likely would take several days, by which point tens of thousands would be seriously ill and hospitals would be overwhelmed, Kadlec says.

In the Bush administration, DHS secratary Michael Chertoff proposed allowing first responders and Homeland Security employees to keep medical kits in their homes with antibiotics and other agents, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would not go along, Chertoff said recently (“How best to protect first responders from anthrax,” 16 March 2010 HSNW). The FDA raised concerns about the overuse of antibiotics, though a 2006 study in St. Louis found that only 4 out of 4,000 people improperly took the pills.


Though the 2001 anthrax attacks have been attributed to a U.S. scientist who later killed himself, al Qaeda ran a biological weapons program that was discovered only when U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan. The group continues to pursue one, wrote Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA agent who is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in a study this year.

Clearly the threat and risks have not diminished,” said Rear Adm. W. Craig Vanderwagen, who was assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness from 2007 to 2009. “And yet we’re undermining the ability to get the tools in hand that are needed.”