An Update on Preparedness

Article excerpt


''The greatest threat of our age," President Bush said in his remarks at London's Whitehall Palace, "is nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists." That claim is supported by a soon-to-be released report by the U.N. al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, which warns that it is "just a matter of time" before the terrorist group launches a chemical or biological attack. While the U.S. government has taken a number of needed steps toward meeting the threat of biological weapons, it still has a long way to go.

On Nov. 14, Homeland Security officials gave reporters a look at the BioWatch system. Designed to detect a biological weapons attack, the sensor network has been deployed in 31 major cities, including Washington. Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Parney Albright admitted that the system would not save everyone exposed to a biological weapon, but it still represents an important development that should be followed up on.

Earlier this week, scientists at the National Institutes of Health began the first human trial of an experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus. The vaccine, which was synthesized essentially from scratch, went from the lab to the clinic in just three years, thanks to the government's burgeoning bioterrorism response programs.

Although the Ebola vaccine shows great promise, its trials are being handicapped by the same problem that has plagued the government's smallpox vaccine program - a shortage of volunteers. More than 200 million doses of smallpox vaccine have been stockpiled and 190,000 have been distributed to the states. …