HHS budget supports flu-fighting efforts

The Health and Human Services Department allocated $302 million of its $81.3 billion discretionary budget for fiscal 2011 to boost preparedness for an influenza pandemic such as the H1N1 outbreak.

The money will be used to support virus detection, communications and research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, HHS Office of the Secretary, and National Institutes of Health, the department announced on Monday.

An additional $330 million from the money Congress appropriated during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak will be spent in 2011 to adopt non-egg-based production technologies and for investments in improved diagnostics.

"This flu season, we got a wake-up call about the readiness of our countermeasures," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a budget briefing. "Even as our scientists and their private sector partners scrambled to produce a safe, effective vaccine in six months -- three months faster than it usually takes -- we saw temporary vaccine shortages because the vaccine grew slowly in chicken eggs, an unpredictable process we've used for the last 50 years."

HHS' fiscal 2011 budget also includes $476 million -- an increase of $136 million over funding enacted for fiscal 2010 -- to support the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in tackling threats such as anthrax and acute radiation syndrome. BARDA manages Project BioShield, which procures and develops countermeasures for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, as well as pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases.

Sebelius announced that HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie will lead a comprehensive review of the department's countermeasure production process "from the laboratory to the doctor's office." The results will be reported by the end of the first quarter of 2010.

"Our ultimate goal is to have the kind of biodefense system that is so dependable and robust that potential terrorists give up and say, 'It's not worth the effort,' and when Mother Nature strikes we are ready to respond," Sebelius said.

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