Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.
July 22, 2004
I'm really pleased to be able to join you and answer your questions today about the President's BioShield initiative and how it affects this Administration's ability to protect the American public against the threat of terrorism from biological, chemical and radiological threats.
Stephanie, from San Antonio, Texas writes:
BioWatch and BioShield are two important components of the President's overall strategy to protect the homeland against bioterrorism. BioShield provides incentives for the pharmaceutical companies as well as for new authorities to the National Institutes for Health to provide an efficient and expedited manner new medical countermeasures to these terrible threats.
BioWatch detects these threats when we are attacked. It is part of a much larger biosurveillance initiative that the President put forward in his FY 05 budget, that also includes not just monitoring environmental monitoring of cities but also includes work by CDC and USDA and DOD in monitoring medical clinics for people displaying unusual symptoms, or monitoring over the counter drug sales to see if there are unusual public health event occurring...
So, all of these things combined to provide a very robust capability for protecting the homeland against this awful threat.
Penny, from Tampa writes:
So the safety and efficacy of these drugs and vaccines will be just the same as anything else. Just like for measles or mumps, etc.
Having said that, we are not suggesting that we go on a mass vaccination campaign across the nation. We would never recommend that unless we had something that was safe to use by the American public.
Under BioShield nothing would be deployed unless it was safe to be used.
Joyce, from Fairfax writes:
It tells the pharmaceutical firm that as long as you can take this drug through the FDA licensing process. As long as you can prove that it is safe and effective, the govt is going to buy this quantity.
So it eliminates a big risk for the pharmaceutical industry. They have a guaranteed market for the medical countermeasure.
It allows them with some certainty to proceed through what can be a very expensive development process in order to deliver these kinds of medical countermeasures.
It removes some risk for the pharmaceutical industry and it provides the nation with a more effective and efficient way of getting these medical countermeasures into our inventory.
Kelly, from Crystal Lake writes:
You are exactly right Kelly. This does allow the medical community to act more quickly and thoroughly once we've had an attack occur.
However, a big part of BioShield legislation also gets to the point you are making and that is it provides new authorities to the researchers of the National Institute of Health to allow them to more effectively conduct research on drugs that we don't even have yet.
It also provides incentives to the pharmaceutical industry to actually develop and bring to the market drugs that for bioterrorism purposes that otherwise would not necessarily be brought to the market because of the uncertainties associated with the marketplace and the risks involved with that.
This legislation addresses the entire gamut of issues associated with the development of medical countermeasures
Jon, from Colorado Springs writes:
However, you can imagine where there are cases where we have bioterrorism attack and we dont have any available countermeasures except one that hasn't quite gotten through the licensing process. But nevertheless has been put into the category of investigational new drug.
For years, we have been using investigational new drugs in the treatment of all kinds of diseases in the past. It requires a formal consent from the person who receives the countermeasure. There are a lot of safeguards built into it. And there are also a lot of extensive follow-up monitoring that occurs.
So, clearly if we had an event that occurred where we were attacked us with a bioterrorism agent of some kind, and we didn't have a drug quite ready to go through licensure but we had it on our shelves and we were in a position where we could actually deploy it to start saving people. It would be irresponsible for us not to do that.
Joe, from Bay City, Michigan writes:
If so, please tell them--keep up the good work working together productively.
Shelby, from Michigan writes:
The first is that the anthrax attacks were not the first time we had had an incident of bioterrorism in this country. You might remember many years ago a cult in Oregon tried to poison a whole bunch of local salad bars with botulism in order to disrupt a local election. So these sorts of things--bioterrorism--has a very long history to it, going back to millennia, when people used to catapult diseased animals over city walls to infect the population of the city under siege.
So, the other issue here is that the technology required to put together a bioterrorism agent is not that difficult and the advances we have had in biotechnology have had a great impact on our public health. The other side to it is that might make it perhaps easier for people with very bad intent against us to attack us. So I think it is prudent given the potential impact of such an attack on the nation that we plan and prepare accordingly.
Charity, from California writes:
One very important partner we have is the Department of Health and Human Services. They of course are the primary developers of medical countermeasures for this countrynot only for bioterrorismbut for health in general. They partner obviously with the private sector and conduct a lot of basic research. They basically oversee the drug development process in this country. So, they are a very, very partner for us.
I meet on a regular basis with the senior management at the Health and Human Services. Many of my staff are heavilyon an almost daily basisworking with the staff over at HHS. We are all engaged in a partnership across the federal government, led by the President, to better protect the nation and be able to respond to bioterrorism attacks.
Michael, from University of Kentucky writes:
Pasha, from Indiana writes:
Charles, from Portland, Maine
But now that we are concerned so much about bioterrorism attacks on the homeland -- after all we were attacked with anthrax and the availability of bioterrorism type of agents getting easier and easier -- the kinds of quantities that we'll be buying for the civilian population with the BioShield legislation will be very large.
The military can then piggyback on these purposes and reap huge benefits on the economies of scale we get by having such large production lines.
So absolutely the military people will benefit greatly from this legislation. The DOD and I worked closely with HHS to set priorities for how we should spend the funding.
Michael, from Powell, TN
You won't see the anthrax in the air, you won't know the person you've bumped up against has smallpox. So there's not a lot you can personally do along these lines except to be alert and if you are ill to seek medical attention.
The medical public health community will be able to detect an attack. It won't just be one or two people getting sick, it will be a number of people. They will detect it because we have BioWatch deployed and we'll detect it as it occurs.
The best thing you can do is to work with us, the federal government, and to be aware of the fact that we are putting together systems to detect these types of attacks and putting into effect things like BioShield which allows us to respond effectively to these attacks to protect the population.
Lane, from Mt. Hood
We conduct them in special laboratories in what is called BioSafety Level 4 or BioSafety Level 3 facilities. If you watch the movies, you know these are the kinds of places where people walk around in spacesuits and multiple layers of protection.
We are extraordinarily confident that the type of research we are doing, the pathogens we are researching -- we have to do this research or we can't protect the public should an attack occur.
But we are confident that the research we are doing is very safe.
It is good to point out that both the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Homeland Security are spending significant dollars over this fiscal year and the next fiscal year to increase the number of labs that have that kind of safety level associated with them to allow more researchers to get involved in this kind of work.