Legislative Update: May 19, 2006, Avian Flu Hearings

Hearing on the White House Report on Avian Flu Pandemic

The hearing consisted of four panelists:
The Honorable Jeffrey W. Runge, Acting Undersecretary,
Science and Technology and Chief Medical Officer
Department of Homeland Security

The Honorable John Agwonobi, Assistant Secretary for Health
Department of Health and Human Services

The Honorable John Clifford, Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Department of Agriculture

The Honorable Peter F. Verga, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense
Department of Defense

Their statements revealed that the government has established five regional offices across the United States. Those were not discussed. Each arm represented are in the process of prioritizing action items which basically focus on communicating with state and locals. The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense are focusing on response and containment, surveillance and protection/operational capability. The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture are focusing on the health aspects in terms of stockpiling supplies (hospital beds, immunizations, masks, etc). Most of the question-and-answer focused on the among of stockpiles, the availability of vaccines, strains and vulnerabilities, and protection of food sources.

ACUI had requested that the following questions be asked during the hearings: What sort of precautionary measures would be taken to protect campus community members, in what time frame, and who pays for those measures? Should there be an outbreak and the college union becomes one of the central management or quarantine facilities, who has authority over the facility (and how is that determined)? What role will the government play in ensuring that there are sufficient supplies on hand to operate as a quarantine facility? How would an outbreak be classified, and would the college union receive compensation if used as a quarantine facility?

The questions submitted by ACUI regarding college and university facilities were asked by Cong. Rogers (R-Ala.) as well as Rep. Etheridge (D-N.C.). The questions about in the involvement of schools, colleges and universities, their containment, support for community and restoration as well as costs were all deflected to DHS and HHS representatives. Their response was that it would all be managed by the state and local authorities. Some regions would have different operations depending on if they were urban or rural and what types of facilities were available outside of hospitals. There was no direct answer in terms of the reimbursement for costs of containment or decontamination in restoration to a usable facility.

Based on those responses, Members recommended in comments as well as comments by staff afterward that institutions should begin communication with the Emergency Management authorities in your local areas. It does appear that there is a great deal of coordination that has NOT happened and that from a national level of response, it will be guided down to your local areas' ability to respond. The funding issues are meager, $6 million at this point through appropriations with more "hopeful" through this cycle. On a note of concern, when asked directly about stockpiles of vaccines, the HHS Deputy Secretary noted it would take three to five years to stockpile necessary supplies for country. With the response from Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.) being, "so we just have to pray there is not outbreak within five years—sound strategy."

Again, it appears this really will move to a regional and local management issue. The article shared several weeks ago, see link below, may be a good one with which to begin your discussions. You will get more response on a local level but then begin to voice your concerns at a federal level. I have listed members of the House Homeland Security Committee below. The House seems to be looking at the development of these federal plans right now more than the Senate.

» Read the full Article

» House Homeland Security Committee Members