Senate Democrats

REID CALLS ON FRIST TO TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT AMERICANS FROM THE AVIAN FLU

Washington, DCSenate Democratic Leader Harry Reid wrote the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist today to urge him to continue support adequate resources to fight a possible Avian flu pandemic. Reid called on Frist to convene a meeting of House and Senate leadership in order to address full funding to protect Americans from the bird flu.

The full text of the letter follows below:

December 14, 2005

The Honorable William Frist

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Frist:

I am deeply concerned that our nation is not prepared for the serious and growing threat of an influenza pandemic and that, despite the Senate’s adoption of a Democratic amendment to provide $8 billion to combat avian flu, this Congress will adjourn without providing the resources America needs to begin addressing this critical issue.

Given the devastating human and economic consequences of a possible pandemic, your support for the Senate Democratic amendment, and reports that congressional Republicans are on the verge of approving half that amount, I hope you will agree with me that we cannot adjourn this year without providing the resources this country needs to

protect Americans from this threat. In order to prevent this outcome, I am writing to request that you immediately convene a meeting of House and Senate Leadership to discuss the threat posed by a potential pandemic and the need to support the Senate position.

As you know, the avian flu has spread to fifteen countries and killed 70 of the 137 individuals it has infected. Scientists are warning that it is only a matter of time before this virus mutates to a new strain that will allow for sustained human-to-human transmission and cause the next pandemic.

The human and economic impact of an influenza pandemic on our nation would be devastating. According to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, a severe flu pandemic could infect 90 million U.S. residents and two million would die. Thirty percent of the work force would become ill and those who survived would miss three weeks of work. This lost productivity and decrease in consumer spending could cause a $675 billion reduction in U.S. gross domestic product and move the nation into a recession.

Perhaps the only thing more troubling than the human and economic consequences of an avian flu pandemic is the fact that our nation is dangerously unprepared to deal with it. We are not dedicating enough resources to global surveillance activities that allow us to detect and contain an outbreak of avian flu. If we are unable to contain a pandemic overseas, our strongest defense at home will be an effective vaccine. However, our domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity is so inadequate it could take nearly a year to produce and distribute a vaccine. Effective drugs that can slow the spread of a pandemic until a vaccine is developed are only available for two percent of our population. Finally, all of these problems are compounded by the fact that our public health infrastructure cannot handle a pandemic and the medical community, businesses and general public must be better prepared for a pandemic.

All of these facts are reasons why Congress must immediately address the avian flu threat and why the Senate voted to do just that earlier this year. As you recall, on October 26th, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment offered by Senate Democrats to provide $8 billion so our government could begin to prepare and protect the nation against this looming threat. We agreed that these funds were urgently needed to fund a number of preparedness activities, including: improving domestic and international surveillance; investing in vaccine development, production and distribution; stockpiling antivirals, vaccines and other essential medications and supplies; strengthening our public health infrastructure and surge capacity; improving risk communication; and increasing awareness and education about pandemic flu.

The fact that you and your fellow Republicans joined with us to support this amendment sent a powerful message that the Senate Democrats and Republicans recognized the challenges we face, and, more importantly, were prepared to do something about them.

That is why I am deeply troubled by reports that House Republicans are proposing to include half the amount approved by the Senate to the Defense Appropriations Conference Report. Senate Democrats and Republicans unanimously agreed that we needed $8 billion this year to prepare and protect the American public from a potential pandemic. Developments since that vote have only served to reinforce the wisdom of that decision.

We agree the threat of a flu pandemic is real and growing. We agree our nation is woefully underprepared to deal with this looming crisis. Earlier this year you agreed with me that we needed to provide $8 billion to begin to address this problem. I hope you stand by that decision and will work with me now to fight for that funding level. Convening a meeting of House and Senate leadership immediately would be an important step in the right direction.

Sincerely,

Senator Harry Reid

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