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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Hoyer released the following statement today after the White House released its response plan in the event of a Pandemic Flu:
“President Bush tried to duck responsibility in the wake of Hurricane Katrina saying no one could have anticipated the New Orleans levees breaking but he should think twice before making a similar claim if an avian flu crisis comes to pass. Experts around the world have for some time provided detailed warnings about the horrifying health and economic consequences such a pandemic would have.
“After long ignoring Democrats and public health authorities, it is past time that the President and Congressional Republicans get serious about an issue that could kill millions of Americans, and seriously disrupt our economy. While the H5N1 virus continues to mutate, and avian flu is detected in more and more countries, the President has been too slow to take the aggressive and necessary steps to prepare our nation for a flu pandemic.
“Although the plan released today is a positive step forward, the effects of waiting so long to adequately address this issue are evident. Six months after the President released his National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, the U.S. still has only a fraction of the antivirals on hand that the World Health Organization says we should have stockpiled, and we have not yet provided adequate funds to bolster our state and local public health capacity to deal with the range of new issues they confront in preparing for a pandemic.
“In addition, President Bush has proposed cutting funding for the CDC by 3.1% this year, and has cut state and local preparedness funds by over $100 million since FY 2005. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have only provided $3.8 billion of the $7.1 billion that the Administration proposed to address this issue. Finally, while we need to ensure that needed vaccines and treatments are available, Republicans have refused to provide a compensation program to help injured individuals and first responders.
“Hurricane Katrina ravaged a region of the country; a Pandemic Influenza has the potential to devastate the entire United States. President Bush must take the lessons learned from Katrina and quickly apply them to preparations for the Avian Flu.”