U.S. President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address Wednesday to unveil a new plan for a better and quicker response to bioterrorism and other threats to public health. The announcement comes just hours after the release of a report critical of the U.S. government's ability to prepare for and respond to bioterrorist attacks.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told VOA Mr. Obama will use his State of the Union address to launch a new initiative to protect Americans from bioterrorism and respond faster to such threats.
The spokesman says President Obama will call on key U.S. government leaders to re-design the country's medical production system to provide rapid and reliable countermeasures to bioterrorism attacks.
The administration's announcement follows the release of a report Tuesday that says the government is failing to protect the American public from several urgent terrorist threats, especially bioterrorism.
The report, from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, says the United States is "woefully behind" in its capability to rapidly produce vaccines and medications to counter a bioterrorist attack.
The chairman of the commission, former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, had this grim prediction.
"It is more likely than not under the current circumstances and without decisive and urgent commitment that there will be a weapon of mass destruction used by a terrorist organization someplace on earth between now and the end of 2013," he said.
Graham says it is well within al-Qaida's capabilities to obtain and use biological weapons, which he says are easier to acquire than other weapons of mass destruction.
He says the nation must be prepared for such an attack.
"Al-Qaida will no doubt look to where it can accomplish its objectives, chaos, mass panic, high level of deaths and it will use those weapons against those targets that it considers to be least well prepared," he said.
Appearing with Graham was Carie Lemack, representing the families of those killed in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Lemack, whose mother was a passenger on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, says the threat of another massive attack remains.
"Sadly the threat is still there," she said. "We know that bin Laden has a fatwa to kill four million Americans. We know that he has claimed to be looking for a nuclear bomb. He had a tape recently released that says he is still out there and the threat is still incredibly real."
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says President Obama late last year signed an Executive Order to improve the government's capability to distribute countermeasures for a large-scale biological attack.
The plan involves using the U.S. Postal Service to deliver antibiotics or other medicine to American households.