House approves pandemic funding far below Bush request

Dec 19, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The US House of Representatives early today approved $3.8 billion in funds for pandemic influenza preparedness, well below the $7.1 billion requested by President George W. Bush in November.

The funds were attached to a huge military spending bill that also included a measure to protect vaccine makers from lawsuits over harm resulting from immunizations against biological agents or viruses such as avian influenza, according to a New York Times report.

The House, laboring to complete major appropriations bills before adjourning for the holidays, passed the $453 billion defense spending bill just after 5 a.m. today, the Washington Post reported.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill as soon as Dec 21, according to the Post. But the measure is highly controversial because it also would authorize oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A news release from the House Appropriations Committee says the proposed $3.8 billion for pandemic preparedness is $3.46 below the administration's request. "This amount funds roughly the FY06 portion of the Administration's request," the statement says.

Of the $3.8 billion, $3.3 billion is for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to boost pandemic preparations, the committee says. The money includes:

  • $350 million for upgrading state and local response capacity
  • $267 million for "international activities, surveillance, vaccine registries, research, and clinical trials"
  • $50 million to increase laboratory capacity through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Department of Health and Human Services is to use the rest of the $3.3 billion to support other "core preparedness activities," including expanding flu-vaccine production capacity, developing vaccines, and stockpiling antiviral drugs.

The remainder of the money is intended for "international assistance, monitoring and tracking, and research and development," the committee says.

In requesting $7.1 billion on Nov 1, Bush had sought $1.2 billion to stockpile the H5N1 avian flu vaccine now in development, $2.8 billon for development of cell-culture vaccine technology, $1 billion for antiviral drugs, $583 million for pandemic emergency planning, and $251 million for surveillance in Asia. The request included $100 million for state and local planning.

The House-passed measure to protect vaccine makers from liability was sought by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Times reported. The provision would allow lawsuits against manufacturers only if they committed "willful misconduct," the story said. It also said the government would pay medical expenses and benefits for people harmed or killed by vaccines.

The House vote came 8 days after Frist warned in a television interview that Bush's $7.1 billion request "had better pass" before Congress adjourns for the year. He made the remark Dec 11 on "Fox News Sunday."

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