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Rogers: Always Be Prepared for a Bioterrorism Attack

Nearly a decade has passed since 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history. And while there has not been a major attack on U.S. soil in the past 10 years, our enemies are still working every day to kill innocent Americans.

Terrorists continue to focus on using a chemical or biological weapon, which could kill tens of thousands of people if unleashed in a major U.S. city. According to the Graham-Talent Commission, the United States is still at serious risk of a bioterrorism attack.

Thankfully, Congress has taken significant steps over the past 10 years to better prepare the country against such an attack. In 2004, we created Project BioShield, which allowed the government to acquire vaccines and treatments that could protect the public from a bioterrorism event.

Project BioShield also sent an important signal to the private sector that the federal government was committed to purchasing countermeasures, which have no other commercial market. Since then, numerous medical countermeasures have been purchased and stored in the Strategic National Stockpile, including an anthrax vaccine, smallpox vaccine, botulism treatment and a treatment for radiation exposure.

In 2006, we passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which provided critical resources to states, health departments and hospitals to beef up preparedness efforts.

That bill also strengthened medical countermeasure development by creating the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which bridges the “valley of death” funding gap between early-stage research and the actual procurement of vaccines and treatments. PAHPA also dramatically improved response coordination at the Department of Health and Human Services.

While we have made significant progress, the threat is still real, and we still are not adequately prepared.

That is why I recently introduced H.R. 2405, a bipartisan bill that would help protect the United States against pandemics and attacks from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. My bill would reauthorize critical components of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, including BARDA, and the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund.

Importantly, my bill would reaffirm that BioShield SRF money should only be used for medical countermeasures. Stockpiling vaccines and treatments is a national security priority, and these funds should never be diverted for other purposes.

H.R. 2405 would also strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s role in reviewing medical products for national security priorities. Many chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons countermeasures do not yet exist, and their development is a risky, expensive and lengthy process.

Medical countermeasures for national security priorities cannot continue to be treated the same way as the next Viagra. These products have been requested by the federal government and supported by millions in taxpayer funds, and the FDA must accelerate its review and approval process.

I hope that we never need to use medical countermeasures, but I would like to rest assured that they are available should an attack happen.

As the simple Boy Scout motto goes, it is better to “always be prepared.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) is chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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