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Tommy Thompson Delivers Speech to Conference of Mayors

Aired October 24, 2001 - 12:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington Tommy Thompson Health and Human Services secretary is speaking to the U.S. Mayors Conference, so let's go to that.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TOMMY THOMPSON, HHS SECRETARY: Thank you very much Mayor Morial for those kinds words and I truly am a friend of the Conference of Mayors and I salute each and every one of you for the job that you do, the tremendous responsibility and the hard work that each of you do in your own right, and I salute you and applaud you.

Mayor Morial, I want you to know that I never supported term limits, and I think it's sad that you're not able to run again. I feel very bad about that. You've been a friend of mine for a long time, whether it be on development of cities, whether it be the development of railroads, which you'll get a passion for as well and transportation that -- it's too bad. I know all of us share a deep commitment to the well-being of American cities, a profound dedication of making that sure every American has access to the opportunities available in this great country.

Saying that, when I came out to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, I never realized that I was going to spend my time -- almost all my time on embryonic stem cells, and then bioterrorism. It's been quite a learning experience for me, and I'm sure it has for you as well.

But it's a pleasure for me to be here today. I'm very happy to see emergency management is here as well, as well as you're policemen and fire officials, because it gives me an opportunity to honor you and your colleagues from across this country who have served and are serving with such honor and dedication, especially now during this period of warfare that we're in right now, both domestically and internationally. And I on behalf of the president thank each and every one of you for what you do.

In the past few weeks, the unity of our country has been something wonderful to behold. America has rallied as seldom before in our history. Much of that is due to the tremendous leadership of our president, President Bush. And I know we all share in his spirit of conviction an intensity of purpose.

The terrorists have caused us great pain, but they've steeled our resolve. As President Reagan said, "Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as to will our moral courage of free men and women." It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

And just as true as we consider the recent spate of anthrax exposures, we all grieved for the individuals who have died. We are taking aggressive steps to ensure that our postal system is safe, that our government can function without a break and that America has all the resources necessary to handle anything the terrorist want to throw at us.

And let me also emphasize that I know you're all on the front lines. And I know you've also got many questions and wondering what happens if anthrax hits your community or some other biological agent. You are the men and women who will be called upon first in the event of any major bioterrorism attack. And there can be no finer example the kind of response we need than that of Mayor Anthony Williams and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

(APPLAUSE)

Make sure you thank them when you see them because they need your support like each of you need each other's support.

We're working with our partners across all levels of government, from the FBI, which I understand you just got done hearing from the director, to the United States Postal Service, to local hospitals to county governments in order to address these more recent terrorist events.

And soon after the first case of anthrax exposure in Florida, the Department of Health and Human Services, through the CDC, alerted all public health departments in the country to be on the lookout for anthrax-like symptoms, including those associated with inhalation and cutaneous.

And throughout this past month, CDC and local public health departments have been working hard to trace back the source of the anthrax-tainted letters that have been received in our country, including some of your cities. They have used the best science to follow the trail of these letters, and we've used the best science to assess the risk of anthrax exposure to employees, both at the workplaces where the letters were received and at the postal facilities through which the letters passed. These efforts were evident in Florida and New York cases where the letters were identified and those who may have been exposed were tested and treated.

Local law enforcement, the FBI, the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and state and local health departments are all working together as partners to find the letters in question, identify exposure areas and get treatment to those at risk.

We have good science, but it is also, ladies and gentlemen -- and I want to make sure I underscore this -- it is evolving science. Remember, we have never had cases of anthrax attacks in the manner before. It is a new challenge that we're all facing as a country. And we need to do more.

So I announced yesterday that the CDC under my direction will immediately move in at any and all postal facilities that might have handled that piece of mail once anthrax is determined to be present.

We will also make medicine immediately available to those employees who may have been at risk of exposure, and we have plenty of antibiotics to treat anthrax, and we will err on the side of caution and making sure people are protected. And to that end, I'm asking for the cooperation and partnership of local public health departments in this endeavor.

We are also going to lend the U.S. Postal Service our scientific expertise in developing ways to protect postal workers as they sort and deliver the mail, as well as what technology might help in making mail rooms more safe.

We have been assisting our colleagues at the Postal Service from the onset of these painful events, and we will continue to make our resources and expertise available to them. And if we suspect that an anthrax-tainted letter may have passed through a facility, we're going to get there, we're going to test the facility and make the appropriate treatment available to all of those who may have been exposed or come in contact with those that have been exposed. We're going to act quickly, and if we need be, let the science catch up to our actions.

Never has our nation's public health surveillance been more important, and a vital part of a public health response is the job of communication. I will tell you the same thing I told the governors last week, and what I told the hospital association, the American Medical Association, and the state legislative leaders. It is imperative that we are all coordinating our messages with your local governments and with CDC.

We've all seen stories during the past month where preliminary tests have turned out one way and secondary tests another. It is important that we get health information to the public quickly, and most importantly, accurately.

I know some critics are charging that our public health system is not prepared to respond to a major bioterrorism attack, and that some state and local labs are feeling overwhelmed right now as they respond to people's natural fears about what might be waiting in the mail.

And I understand that some of you also are feeling very overburdened.

I know that those of you here who work in police, emergency and fire response are being overwhelmed with calls from concerned citizens. But we have responded to each and every threat, and we will continue to do so, and you should be proud of how well you have responded to events that two months ago would have been unthinkable. What we have shown, working together since September 11, is that a federal, state and city partnership does work, is working and will continue to work even better.

But our work is just beginning. What we have learned since September is where we need to focus our efforts, to make that we are prepared to respond tomorrow better than we are today. So we in the federal government are working to strengthen our partnerships with you. We're continuing our efforts to get at you at the state and local level in order to help your needs, even as we prepare for future events.

So, first, I'm announcing today the immediate release of $300 million through CDC to supplement public health grants to the effected states and cities, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Florida. The award will accelerate active surveillance detection and confirmation of anthrax cases. These actions will help improve our public health response capabilities.

In addition, last week President Bush requested additional funds to strengthen our ability to prevent and respond to a bioterrorism attack. Of the total funds requested, $300 million is being designated to improve state and local response capacity.

The proposal includes $50 million to support increased capacity at the nation's hospitals and other health facilities in the event of any incident that could lead to mass casualties. $50 million will bolster the metropolitan medical response system, which is up and running now in 97 cities. It will be expanded to 122 cities this fiscal year to respond to bioterrorism, especially the public health aspects.

$40 million will support early detection surveillance to identify possible bioterrorism agents. $15 million will support increased capacity, up to an additional 45 state and local laboratories. And $10 million will increase capacity for CDC and state and local labs, and also an additional $10 million to support local planning efforts.

The president's request also provides substantial funding for the CDC's rapid response and advanced technology labs, as well as their epidemiology teams.

In addition, I am requesting Congress to fund a graduate of the CDC Epidemiology Intelligence Service for each state health department, and I hope that even we would be able to expand that to regional and some local health departments as well. And also 410 new FDA inspectors to help ensure our food is not tainted with pathogens or other biochemicals.

But that is not all. Today, I am also negotiating with Bayer Corporation in order to purchase the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, commonly referred to as Cipro, to be available if needed for treatment in the event of a bioterrorism event involving a very large number of patients.

The bottom line is, we hope to save the American taxpayers several millions of dollars, but I will ask Congress to immediately redirect to state and local preparedness efforts.

We also are accelerating the production of vaccines and antibiotics -- in fact, that's what I was meeting on all morning today -- an investment in essential programs and cooperation to ensure the speedy and the orderly distribution of antibiotics and other supplies in the event of a bioterrorism event.

The president's request includes $643 million in order to expand the national pharmaceutical stockpile and $509 million to speed the purchase of 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine. With these resources, HHS will expand our ability to respond to an all-hazardous event.

As you may know, there are currently eight push packages, each consisting of 50 tons of pharmaceutical supplies and other medical necessities, which are located strategically around the country as part of our stockpile. Each one includes 84 separate types of supplies, including antibiotics, needles and IVs, a tablet counting machine and oxygen masks. Each push package provides a full course of antibiotics and other medical supplies and is shipped to an area within 12 hours to help state and local response efforts. It takes nine semi-trucks to haul these 50 tons of supplies.

And in the case of New York City, we were able to deliver them there to the city within seven hours. And beyond that, we also were able to deliver 50,000 tetanus shots and medicine and 10,000 masks within five hours, by 5:00 that day.

These push-packs have enough drugs to treat two million individuals for inhalational anthrax following exposure. And I have directed that the stockpile development should be increased for inhalation anthrax, as well as other anthraxes, so that 12 million individual Americans could be treated. CDC will reach that level of response within the next several months.

With the additional resources, we will also add four more push- packs to the current eight already located across the country, making more emergency supplies available and augmenting our existing supplies of 400 tons by another 200 tons.

And I also know, for those individuals who are concerned about the lack of medical personnel in your communities in case of a real surge for hospital beds and so on, we have 7,000 medical personnel distributed in 90 medical assistant teams throughout America. We have 6,000 members of the Commission Corps, under the direction of the surgeon general that can be made available, either one or both, to move into your communities, if need be, for mass vaccinations or mass distribution of pills or diagnosis or taking care of individuals.

Plus, we have several, close to a thousand within our own department, doctors and nurses and other medical personnel, that could also assist. I've also contacted the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and several professional specialities, and all of those individuals want to help and are making an inventory of their specialists, as well as personnel that could be of an assistance anyplace in the country. I'm also working with Senators Frist and Kennedy on legislation that will go even further. We're working together across parties and across branches of government to make sure that any new money is spent in the most effective way.

As I've told a lot of members in Congress and a lot of people across America, there's always some good that comes out of a horrendous thing like this terrorist attack on September 11. And one of the things, the positive things that we can build out of this is the best local and state public health system that America's ever seen, something that has not had the investment or the resources in the past.

We now recognize that. We now have a chance to remedy that and to rebuild it to the best that it possibly can be.

We must take this opportunity to do everything we can to improve and strengthen the public health system in this country, and the extra dollars and Congress is going to give us the opportunity to do so. I'm talking about it to the president, to Congress to the nation's governors and state legislators. And I'm hear to talk to you about it and to urge you to contact your members of Congress to not let this opportunity pass us by.

So let me close by quoting one of my great heroes, Winston Churchill, and I'm reminded of something Winston Churchill said during the early days of the Second World War: "Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival."

So I want to thank you again for the hard work, your leadership, your partnership and your commitment to ensuring the health and safety of your citizens and for asking me to join you today.

God bless you and God bless America.

(APPLAUSE)

BROWN: Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson at an emergency meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors making a couple of points that I think briefly are worth repeating here. One: He said on the science, we have good science -- this is in relationship to anthrax of course -- but it is evolving science. This is to our ear clearly reaction to the criticism that the administration has heard about how the CDC, how the public health community handled the Brentwood Post Office processing center scare or anthrax situation compared to how Congress handled the testing.

It was done in one place versus another. The treatment that was done in one place versus another, the administration has said for the last 36 hours, that they had fallen behind in some ways to science and they are trying to catch up, and Secretary Thompson said, at one point, from now on let science catch up to our actions. We will act first.

Major Garrett is traveling this afternoon with President Bush. He joins us in Maryland.

I gather from that the administration has been somewhat stung by the criticism that it hasn't responded either quickly enough or in some cases fairly enough to the anthrax crisis.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the administration clearly feels that for the first time during this crisis that it is receiving some very sustained criticism on this point. It's trying to be as responsive as it can. And it does feel a bit trapped between the gap between the science and the precautions.

And as you pointed out, and I think that's the most telling phrase at least for the public to hear from Secretary Thompson is, from this point forward actions will be taken first, the science can catch up later. The administration and all those who are responding at first to these various episodes, New Jersey, Washington and Florida, we're letting the science direct the actions. That's no longer going to be the case, because that has clearly proved to have been a tragic mistake particularly in the cases in the Washington area.

There is a couple of other things worth pointing out as far as the comments of Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson. He talked about that there would be 410 new FDA food inspectors. There is a very important reason why he is beefing up that part of the Health and Human Services inspection regime.

He has said on the record very recently -- Mr. Thompson has -- that one of his gravest fears is that the next stage of terror in this country could, in fact, be something dealing with the contamination of American food sources. And so he has ordered and stepped up dramatically food inspections with that additional 410 number of inspectors.

The secretary also talked about these "push packs" which are palates, essentially, of antibiotics that can, in the case of New York, be brought there immediately. But what the Health and Human Services department has learned through various testing of these push packs, and the methods used in test runs, is that, yes, the antibiotics, the drugs, the therapies arrive, but the logistical means of distributing them are very complicated.

They have run these tests and people come up in these tests, they don't have enough bottles to actually put the medication in. They don't have instructions when to take them. Should you take them with other medication? They don't have them in different languages. Sometimes people up in the test, don't speak English.

And so the secretary tried to say that not only with the number of push packs be increased from 8 to 12, but the number of medical personal who will go to these sites to assist in this fundamental logistical distribution of the antibiotics, of the drug therapies, will be there as well. Health and Human Services department has understood from these dry runs this is a big hole in the methodology of dealing with a bioterror attack. The secretary is trying to address it. And Aaron, I believe, if I am correct, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, leaving the White House, preparing to take a helicopter to very near where I am, Glen Burnie, Maryland, for a speech on economic stimulus. Some of the work being done in Congress on that very subject will occur in the House this week.

The president will give a substantial endorsement to that House economic stimulus bill as part of the opening bid in what will be clearly a rather prolonged debate in Congress about just how to stimulate the economy after the events of September 11.

BROWN: Major, thank you. Major Garrett who is awaiting the president in Maryland. As you see the president about to step onboard Marine 1 for the short flight to Glen Burnie, Maryland.

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