US health officials are considering an unprecedented plan to stock homes with antidote kits in the event of a bio-terror attack, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday.
The feasibility of home antidote kits could be tested in Seattle, Washington, Von Roebuck of the CDC said.
"There are a lot of avenues being looked at as to how we can get vaccines and antidotes to the general public in an emergency situation," Roebuck said, stressing the options remained "in the drawing-board stage."
"At this point, there is nothing set in stone," he explained. "We want to have a very open mind when it comes to how we distribute things."
Ideas include having US Postal Service carriers deliver emergency medicines, keeping batches of drugs at hospitals or clinics throughout the nation, and "seeing what can be done in folks' homes," Roebuck said.
The CDC contacted health officials in the Seattle area about "a preparedness initiative," said James Apa, a spokesman for the city and the county that encompasses it.
"They want to do a trial in Seattle," Apa said, referring questions to the CDC. "We had a briefing and are just waiting for more details."
Seattle was described as being among the urban centers that more effectively coordinates responses of the ambulances, hospitals, emergency workers and agencies that would be called into action in event of a bio-emergency.
It was one of 21 US cities that implemented "readiness initiatives" after the attacks of Sept. 11, according to the CDC.
"The whole idea is you know your city best; how quickly can we get things out outside of a clinic situation," Roebuck said of the CDC working with local counterparts. "The idea of giving people kits would be in the mix of some of the things."
Helping Louisiana officials deliver medications to people with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes, has been a priority for the CDC of late, according to Roebuck.
"What one would do with a bio-terrorism situation is very different than a natural disaster," Roebuck said. "Certainly, every time there is a response there are lessons learned, but every hurricane is different and every response is different."
The CDC would coordinate distribution of bio-terrorism kits as part of its management of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) of medical supplies.
The stated intent of the stockpile is "to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency [terrorist attack, flu outbreak, earthquake] severe enough to cause local supplies to run out."
Bird-flu vaccine purchased from French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur in a US$100 million contract disclosed last week in Paris will be part of the SNS, Roebuck said.
A statement from the French group said the US Department of Health and Human Services ordered the production of a concentrated form of the vaccine in bulk, which would be manufactured in the next two months.
Further payments would be made to the French company for vaccine storage and conditioning upon request from the US government, Sanofi said.
Production of the vaccine would take place at its US headquarters in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania.
The reference to "stockpile" is not literal, said CDC officials, who explained the SNS coordinates availability of medicine from drug companies and other sources instead of simply filling warehouses with pharmaceuticals.