The lethal avian flu that is spreading rapidly around the world could soon infect wild birds and domesticated flocks in the United States, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said on Wednesday.
[...] Leavitt told the committee that by the end of this year, the United States will have about 20 million doses of anti-viral drugs, mostly Tamiflu, stockpiled.
But the development of a vaccine is three to five years away, Leavitt said. He downplayed chances that this timetable could be accelerated significantly and added that even with vaccine technology, it would take drug companies six months after the start of a pandemic to produce an effective one.
"In the first six months of a pandemic we are dependent on basic public health, social distancing; every business, every school, every church, every county to have a plan," Leavitt said, adding, "We are overdue (for a pandemic) and under-protected, but we are moving with dispatch."
Leavitt also was skeptical that the federal government could provide all localities with the full arsenal of basic medical equipment, such as ventilators, masks, gauze and gloves, needed during a pandemic. That surprised Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, who said he had thought the billions of dollars being spent would cover such stockpiles.