An interesting blog by Wired magazine reporter Brandon Keim suggests that the recent decision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to put the American people on “alert” for an anthrax attack has more to do with protecting the Bush administration’s cozy relationship with manufacturers of anthrax vaccines than protecting the nation from a bio-terrorist attack. Project BioShield is a $5.6 billion effort to exploit the top medical and scientific brains in the U.S. and fill an emergency medical cabinet with new drugs and vaccines for a host of threats, from anthrax to small pox and avian influenza.
According to the Public Readiness and Preparedness Act of 2005, drug manufacturers are protected against paralyzing lawsuits that may follow outbreaks of anthrax, avian influenza or other potentially pandemic diseases if their vaccines are proven to be ineffective. The Act is a controversial liability shield intended to protect vaccine manufacturers from financial risk in the event of a declared public health emergency at the discretion of the Executive branch of government. Even though the Act is supposed to be invoked when the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined “that there is a domestic emergency, or a significant potential for a domestic emergency, involving a heightened risk of attack with a specified biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agent or agents,” Keim notes that even Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff admits no such evidence of these conditions actually exists.
“These findings are not necessary to make a determination,” Chertoff is quoted as writing in a brief to the Department of Health and Human Services. The identification of anthrax as a threat four years ago is sufficient for allowing “the government to determine in the future that there is a heightened risk” of a new attack.
Want to really get spooked? Check out this scary news piece by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), a nonprofit organization that provides programming by cable, broadcast and satellite to approximately 200 countries, in approximately 71 languages, with a 24-hour telephone prayer line:
Keim clearly comes down harder on the Bush administration than he does the vaccines industry, but given the questionable efficacy of these vaccines one is left wondering whether we may wish to pay more critical attention to the lobbying activities of the drug industry. The legal liability clause in the Public Readiness and Preparedness Act is certainly not the result of government charity.