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Public Health Preparedness: Developing and Acquiring Medical Countermeasures Against Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Agents

GAO-11-567T Published: Apr 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2011.
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The anthrax attacks of 2001 and a radiation leak after the recent natural disaster in Japan highlighted concerns that the United States is vulnerable to threats from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents, which can cause widespread illness and death. Medical countermeasures--such as drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic devices--can prevent or treat the health effects of exposure, but few are currently available for many of these CBRN agents. GAO was asked to testify on the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) CBRN medical countermeasure development and acquisition activities. This statement focuses on (1) how HHS determines needed CBRN medical countermeasures and priorities for development and acquisition and (2) selected challenges to medical countermeasure development and acquisition. This statement of preliminary findings is based on ongoing work. To do this work, GAO examined relevant laws and presidential directives, analyzed federal agency documents and reports from advisory boards and expert groups, and interviewed officials from HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the processes for developing and acquiring CBRN medical countermeasures and the challenges related to those efforts. GAO shared the information in this statement with HHS. HHS provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

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