Flu crisis exposes large gaps in bioterrorism readiness
By Frank James, Chicago Tribune(KRT)
WASHINGTON -- Problems producing flu vaccines that raised the specter of a health crisis have highlighted the difficulties facing the U.S. government
as it tries to counter terrorists who would attack America with bioweapons.
If terrorists were to strike with deadly biowar agents such as anthrax or plague bacteria, experts fear the nation would be hugely vulnerable, despite
the billions of dollars already spent to increase national readiness after the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks and subsequent anthrax-laced letters in
The U.S. is substantially ahead of where it was three years ago, when the nation was mostly unprepared for such attacks, experts say. But further
progress is urgently needed, they say, as terrorists such as al-Qaida are known to be interested in using bioweapons.
"I do think a lot has been accomplished considering where we were a couple of years ago but there's still a long, long way to go," said Dr. Charles
Bailey, executive director of the National Center for Biodefense at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
The gaps are worrisome to experts like Bailey, former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick,
Md., one of the nation's few facilities equipped to study the deadliest microbes.
As proved by the unsolved 2001 anthrax attacks, in which envelopes containing weapons-grade spores were sent through the mail and killed five people,
even crude bioterrorism attacks can be effective.
"It's not rocket science to generate these agents and disseminate them," Bailey said. "Some of these terrorist groups are believed to be capable
of doing that. I'm very concerned about it.
"As the biological sciences keep progressing in its technology and know-how, it's going to become even easier for lesser-trained individuals," he
Not surprisingly, much of the progress since Sept. 11, 2001, has been to solve the easiest-to-tackle problems......................