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Preparing for Bioterrorism

The Obama administration has its work cut out.

12:50 PM, Feb 23, 2010 • By TEVI TROY
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Widespread adoption of home medkits would considerably reduce the distribution challenge faced by federal officials in a crisis. It would also promote individual responsibility and self-reliance, and individuals nervous about the federal government’s performance during the current vaccine difficulties could find assurance in knowing they had taken important steps to protect themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, medkits still face a number of hurdles before federal officials can make them a key part of our national preparedness planning. 

First is the resistance from public health authorities. When former secretary of health and human services Mike Leavitt promoted this idea, he was met with near unanimous opposition, in large part because they did not trust individuals to use countermeasures both when and as directed by the appropriate officials. But a 2006 study in St. Louis, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control, found that 97 percent of households entrusted with medkits did not open sealed containers without being directed to do so by the appropriate officials.

Secretary Leavitt also requested that federal officials develop medkits that individuals could use in a variety of scenarios. Thus far, the kits are not available, and the Food and Drug Administration has determined that already-approved drugs repackaged in a medkit require separate approval and labeling, which slows their development. Another obstacle has been the recent crisis directing resources towards dealing with the H1N1 virus. Government officials will now shift their attention to the new biodefense initiative.

With the recent executive order highlighting the postal service distribution plan, the Obama administration appears to have put medkits on the back burner. If so, this is a mistake. The president’s requested redesign of our countermeasure system should continue to develop the concept of home medkits and make them part of the federal distribution arsenal. Otherwise, our recent distribution problems could serve as an unfortunate foreshadowing of a problem that could very well be avoided.

Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary of health and human services, is a visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He has consulted for companies regarding pandemic preparedness.

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