Pascrell, King, Booker Bill to Protect First Responders from Anthrax Exposure Heads to President
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday initially introduced by U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Peter King (R-NY) that would direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to make surplus anthrax vaccines available to first responders. The First Responder Anthrax Preparedness Act (H.R. 1300/S.1915) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The amended bill will now go before President Obama to be signed into law.
"One of my top priorities is protecting our emergency first responders, the men and women who run into dangerous situations on our behalf. This bipartisan bill ensures our first responders are prepared and protected in the event of a biological attack," said Rep. Pascrell, chair of the Congressional Fire Services and Congressional Law Enforcement Caucuses. "We are years removed from anthrax scares that had everyone's attention, but the threat of weapons of mass destruction has not been removed. For more than a decade, I've been advocating for a comprehensive national strategy to address this threat, and this bill begins to strengthen our national response capability."
Specifically, the First Responder Anthrax Preparedness Act would:
- Authorize emergency first responders to be provided with surplus and short shelf life/expiring anthrax vaccines and antimicrobials from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) on a voluntary basis.
- Directs the DHS Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis to conduct risk analysis and assessments of the threats posed by an anthrax-related attack of terror.
- Authorize an 18-month pilot program for DHS to administer surplus and expiring anthrax vaccines and antimicrobials to emergency response providers on a voluntary basis.
During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in 2015, Alexander Garza, a former Chief Medical Officer and Assistant Secretary for the DHS Office of Health Affairs discussed the potential grave consequences of an anthrax attack. Dr. Garza testified that "a successful anthrax attack could potentially expose hundreds of thousands of people, and cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption and economic damage."
According to Dr. James Polk, a Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Chief Medical Officer for DHS, pre-event vaccination for emergency response providers would increase their ability to save lives, maintain social order, and ensure continuity of government after a wide-area anthrax attack.
In September 2001, just one week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. Senate offices, killing five people and infecting 17 others in what became the worst biological attacks in U.S. history.
The First Responder Anthrax Preparedness Act is supported by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Alliance for Biosecurity, and International Association of Emergency Medical Services Chiefs.