Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US approves vaccinations

AFP , Washington

Spurred by persistent terrorism warnings, US Congress late Wednesday gave final approval to legislation that is expected to boost worldwide research into vaccines and other antidotes against biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction.

By a vote of 414-2, the House of Representative signed off on Project BioShield that authorizes the US government to spend US$5.6 billion over the next 10 years to create a stockpile of drugs and vaccines for use in case of an attack on the US with biological, chemical or other deadly weapons.

The bill that was approved by the Senate two months ago goes to the White House for President George W. Bush's signature, which he said will be forthcoming.

"This legislation will strengthen our ability to protect Americans against biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological threats," Bush said in a written statement from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he was campaigning.

"By bringing researchers, medical experts, and the biomedical industry together in new and innovative ways, we will not only help protect the homeland, but also gain insights into other diseases," the president stressed.

The initiative, first unveiled in Bush's State of the Union address last year, was prompted by intelligence reports that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have been trying to develop or gain access to biological warfare agents as well as other weapons of mass destruction.

However, available US defenses have not progressed much since the Cold War, according to administration officials.

The smallpox vaccines available today, they said, are not much different than those last used by the public in the 1960s, while some treatments for radiation and chemical exposure have not significantly changed since the 1970s.

US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge emphasized the urgency of the situation again on Wednesday, saying in a CNN interview that "credible reporting now indicates that al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States."

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