Preventing Bioterror

The United States and its allies are developing a long line of defense against biological attacks by terrorists. Finding and destroying Iraq's bioweapons, for instance, may keep them from ever being used.

The US learned just after Sept. 11 just how unprepared it is to prevent or respond to this type of terrorism: Someone mailed envelopes containing anthrax to the Senate and elsewhere, killing five people.

Absent successful prevention, the next line of defense is the development of new or better vaccines and antidotes for bioterror agents. The Defense Science Board (a federal advisory committee) estimates only one of 57 needed vaccines and drugs is available to deal with the top 19 bioterror threats.

President Bush asked Congress last month for money to support the pharmaceutical industry in such research. Many firms dropped out of this financially risky work long ago.

Mr. Bush asked for $800 million for the next fiscal year, and $5.6 billion over the next 10 years for what is called Project Bioshield. Many details still need to be worked out, especially some method to prevent drug companies from making huge profits with this federal boost.

Preventing bioterror in the first place remains the best defense. While many people may welcome a medical solution, just placing hope on vaccines and drugs for this one aspect of the war on terrorism isn't enough.

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