Springfield State Journal Register

December 06, 2005

Federal-state flu pandemic plan in the works


WASHINGTON - Illinois Department of Public Health Director Eric Whitaker and other state health officials met with Bush administration officials Monday to launch a coordinated federal-state effort to respond to a potential flu pandemic.

While Illinois has been working on its own pandemic plan, Whitaker�s team has been revising it to meet recently issued federal guidelines.

�We�ve somewhat single-handedly been working on pandemic flu since last March before it came a big federal issue. It comes down to how are we going to pay for this?� Whitaker said.

While the Bush administration is proposing to add $100 million to help states with the planning, the administration also proposes cutting $130 million in other areas that affect emergency preparedness and public health, Whitaker said.

�So in the aggregate, we lose $30 million,� he said. �The message that the feds are trying to convey was that the states and localities are going to be the front line for the battle in this country, and I agree with that assessment, but then the question becomes how do you support those efforts?�

State officials haven�t completed a cost estimate of what it would take to comply with the Bush administration�s plan, he said.

Whitaker said he heard little new from federal officials Monday.

�The questions I had coming in the door are the same ones I left with,� he said.

�One of our concerns as a state is if we decide to spend money on stockpiling anti-virals or any resource, will we get penalized for having good planning and resources go to those who haven�t invested in anti-virals or protective gear? That�s one of the things that has to be worked out,� Whitaker said.

Bush asked Congress to spend $7.1 billion to stockpile medicine and improve surveillance of poultry. While the federal government plans to pay for most of the antiviral drugs, states are asked to spend $500 million.

Decisions about who would get the drugs largely would rest with the states.

Within the next month, Whitaker said he plans to name a committee of bioethicists to determine who within the state should be given priority for the limited supply of medicine available.