Legislation to protect first responders from anthrax exposure in the event of a biological attack passed the House on Tuesday and will now go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The First Responder Anthrax Preparedness Act would authorize a pilot program for the Department of Homeland Security to provide first responders with surplus anthrax vaccines that would soon be expiring from the Strategic National Stockpile.
The House bill, which drew bipartisan support, was initially introduced by U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Peter King (R-NY). In the Senate, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) took the lead on introducing the legislation, which was unanimously passed on Nov. 16.
“We are years removed from anthrax scares that had everyone’s attention, but the threat of weapons of mass destruction has not been removed,” said Pascrell, chair of the Congressional Fire Services and Congressional Law Enforcement Caucuses. “For more than a decade, I’ve been advocating for a comprehensive national strategy to address this threat, and this bill begins to strengthen our national response capability,” he added.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. Senate offices, killing five people and infecting 17 others in what became the worst biological attacks in U.S. history.
Providing first responders with vaccination before an event is viewed as critical to increasing their ability to save lives and maintain order if a widespread anthrax attack ever occurred. A biological attack could potentially expose and sicken many thousands of people.
“As a former mayor, I know the crucial role first responders play in protecting our families and keeping our communities safe, ” Booker, a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, said. “Our brave first responders step up when our communities need them most, and I was proud to step up for them and help advance this bipartisan, common sense measure that will help protect them from the threat of bioterrorism.”
The legislation gained support from the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Emergency Medical Services Chiefs.
The Alliance for Biosecurity also was in favor of the bill. The alliance, a collaboration among pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, works to improve prevention and treatment of severe infectious diseases, particularly those that present global security challenges.