The Bush administration is finalizing an agreement with postal workers to help deliver antibiotics or antidotes within 48 hours of a biological attack to 21 major cities, reports the Washington Post. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson informed key lawmakers yesterday that he intends to take $55 million from state bioterrorism projects to pay for the new program, the “Cities Readiness Initiative.” Some money would be spent installing sophisticated disease surveillance equipment, purchasing vaccines, and building new quarantine stations at U.S. airports.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, said that in a time of tight budgets it makes sense to shift money to “high-risk cities” most likely to be targeted by terrorists. Several governors, lawmakers, and public health leaders protested what Shelley A. Hearne, head of the Trust for America’s Health, a nonpartisan public health advocacy group, called a “shell game” with potentially dangerous consequences. “We should not be in a situation of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. Tapping letter carriers to deliver emergency supplies is an “innovative idea with great possibilities,” she said, but it should not be paid for with money promised to states.
Under Thompson’s plan, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska would lose more than $4 million. In that region, only Seattle is deemed a priority city; it would receive $830,000.