Photo Credit: Pete SouzaA nice catch from our friends at Grabien, who got it from Ace [update] and who had to go all the way back to 2005 to find this nugget and the contemporaneous coverage at the NYT. At the time, the US prepared for a predicted epidemic of the avian flu, also known as H5N1, of global proportions. The virus had been identified for 18 years by that time, but by the end of 2004 had only resulted in 36 deaths and 50 known cases over the prior two years, according to WHO data. In 2005, the number of cases would jump to 98 and deaths to 43, and the prevention of a pandemic became a high priority. At that time, then-Senator Barack Obama scolded the Bush administration on the Senate floor, and quarterbacked a protest letter from his fellow Democrats over the slow response and lack of preparedness by the White House:
This lack of planning is compounded by the fact that we still don’t have a FDA approved vaccine against avian flu, and the one drug that many countries are relying on—Tamiflu—may be less effective than experts had thought. The manufacturer is also struggling to meet the demand, and it could take up to 2 years for it to make enough for the U.S. stockpile, presuming this Administration finally puts in an order for the drug. …
The failure to prepare for emergencies can have devastating consequences. We learned that lesson the hard way after Hurricane Katrina. This nation must not be caught off-guard when faced with the prospect of an avian flu pandemic. The consequences are too high.
The flyways for migratory birds are well-established. We know that avian flu will likely hit the United States in a matter of time. With the regular flu season coming up shortly, conditions will be favorable for reassortment of the avian flu virus with the annual flu virus. Such reassortment could lead to a mutated virus that could be transmitted efficiently between humans, which is the last condition needed for pandemic flu.
The question is will we be ready when that happens? Let’s make sure that answer is yes. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to push this Administration to take the action needed to prevent a catastrophe that we have not seen during our lifetimes.”
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