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Democrats' report criticizes bioterror response plan

WASHINGTON -- Efforts to distribute the government's stockpile of drugs and vaccines in the event of a biological attack would fall short in ''the last mile" of distribution to state and local areas, according to a Democratic report critical of the Bush administration.

The administration is dismissing the report, due out today, as election-year politicking.

The Democratic staff on the House Homeland Security Committee surveyed health officials in all 50 states. The aides to Texas Representative Jim Turner, the panel's top Democrat, received 41 responses to a series of five questions about states' readiness and funds in the event of a biological attack or serious infectious disease.

Only three states reported that they are at the optimal level of preparedness for a biological attack, based on a three-point scale established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four states reported that they were at the bottom of the scale, and six states had not been rated.

Health and Human Services Department spokesman Tony Jewell said the Democrats' report was ''petty partisan politics."

''No president in history has done more to strengthen our public health and emergency response capabilities than President Bush," he said.

While the report criticizes the government for not providing enough money, Jewell said not one state has been able to use all the funds the administration has provided to improve hospital readiness and public health programs since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That total is about $5.4 billion in four years.

In 1999, the government established a national stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and other medical supplies to deal with natural or terrorist-created attacks, including anthrax and smallpox.

An important part of the program are so-called ''push packs" of supplies that can reach any state within 12 hours. Each pack could fill a 747 jet.

The Democrats' report raises questions about whether the drugs could make it smoothly through ''the last mile" to state and local health officials, who would ultimately treat patients exposed to deadly pathogens.

The Democratic staff also received 63 responses to 104 surveys sent to cities and localities about plans for handling a biological attack. Some local health officials replied with concerns about finding trained people to administer treatments and getting proper equipment.

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