WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday signed legislation to develop and stockpile vaccines and other antidotes to chemical and germ attacks, saying the measure will “rally the great promise of American science and innovation to confront the greatest danger of our time.”
The legislation, called Project BioShield, provides the drug industry with incentives to research and develop bioterrorism countermeasures. It speeds up the approval process of antidotes and, in an emergency, allows the government to distribute certain treatments before the Food and Drug Administration has approved them.
“We know that the terrorists seek an even deadlier technology, and if they acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons we have no doubt they will use them to cause even greater harm,” Bush said in the Rose Garden. He said the legislation sends a message about America’s direction in the war on terror — that the United States refuses to stand idle “when modern technology might be turned against us.”
U.S. officials are hoping that Project BioShield will yield enough new-generation anthrax vaccine to dose 25 million people. Federal health officials also hope that the $5.6 billion program will provide antidotes for botulism and anthrax, a safer smallpox vaccine and a long-awaited children’s version of an anti-radiation pill.
The program received bipartisan support in Congress. It passed the House on a 414-2 vote July 15. The discovery of sarin gas in a roadside bomb in Iraq and ricin and anthrax attacks against the Capitol spurred the Senate to pass it 99-0 in May.
“Modern terrorist threats come not just from explosions, but also from silent killers such as deadly germs and chemical agents,” Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., an author of the bill, said in a statement. “Project BioShield creates a lifesaving partnership between our government and the private sector to develop the vaccines needed to project our citizens from this bioterrorism. This bill could save millions of lives.”
Defending homeland security efforts
The bill signing was one of several events this week where Bush is defending his administration’s efforts to secure the homeland as the release of the Sept. 11 commission’s report on Thursday reminds Americans of the nation’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
The chem-bio threatOn Thursday, Bush is to sign the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, giving qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers the ability to carry their concealed firearms nationwide. That same day the Sept. 11 panel formally releases its report saying the U.S. intelligence community missed the significance of “telltale indicators” of impending terrorist attacks, partly because of its piecemeal approach to intelligence analysis.
Later on Thursday, Bush travels to Illinois to tour the Northeastern Illinois Public Training Academy in Glenview, Ill., and give a speech on homeland security.
“I will continue to work with the Congress and state and local governments to build on the homeland security improvements we have already made,” Bush said at the bill-signing ceremony. “Every American can be certain that their government will continue doing everything in our power to prevent a terrorist attack and if the terrorists do strike we will be better prepared to defend our people because of the good law I sign today.”
Bush told supporter in St. Charles, Mo., Tuesday night that fighting enemies abroad is the best way to prevent another attack on U.S. soil. He said his administration has reorganized the government to increase communication among federal, state and local governments. The FBI also has changed its mission to make sure that counterterrorism is the top priority, he said.
According to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 71 percent of Americans think the government is doing a “fairly well’ or “very well” at protecting the nation against another terrorist attack. But the poll also said that a majority believe terrorists have at least the same ability to strike inside the United States as they did on Sept. 11, 2001.
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