Although the U.S. has made steps to better prepare for small-scale bioterror events, it is still unprepared to protect citizens against large attacks, according to an assessment from a bipartisan commission established to advise Congress.
The report found that although the nation gets a satisfactory “C” for detecting a small-scale noncontagious or contagious event, a large-scale attack would overwhelm existing capabilities.
The 73-page review provides an overview of current and emerging biological threats and recommends priorities for strengthening the nation’s preparedness for such events. It was conducted by the WMD Terrorism Research Center, a nonprofit group.
The report issues letter grades to bio-response areas including detection and diagnosis, attribution, communication, medical countermeasure availability, medical countermeasure development and approval, medical countermeasure dispensing, medical management, and environmental cleanup.
While the report gave good marks to the communication system for before, during and after a biological event, the nation’s system for developing and acquiring medical countermeasures was labeled as lacking clearly defined requirements, common research and development goals, coordinated budget requests, and enough sustained funding.
In assessing medical countermeasure production, experts found the current stockpile able to limit the impact of a small-scale attack but insufficient for larger attack and useless in the case of a drug-resistant or novel pathogen attack.
Funding shortfalls are slowing progress in these areas. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is currently funded at about 10% of its requirements, the report estimated, and the Food and Drug Administration lacks funding for its work on medical countermeasures.
“Without sustained funding there will be little chance of success,” the group said. “Medical countermeasures are the most important arrow in the biodefense quiver.”
The group has urged policymakers to focus on inferior areas as well as the most likely large-scale events focusing in the areas of leadership, mobilizing the nation, and sustaining investments in science.
“In an era of economic instability and budget constraints, it has never been more important to identify and mobilize the nation’s collective capabilities and resources,” the group said.
Its members urged the government to address legal and regulatory barriers blocking coordination with other groups and the private sector. They also told policy makers that the FDA can’t build a successful countermeasure program with meager funding.
“Priority must be placed on creating long-term funding of FDA research, the same way the Department of Defense provides long-term funding for weapons development,” the group said.