Is U.S. ready for a pandemic? Investigation says we’re ‘ill-prepared’
NEW YORK– Somewhere in a Department of Homeland Security warehouse, thousands of doses of antiviral medications are about to expire.
Another warehouse stores thousands of expired respirators.
This is the equipment and medicine that was supposed to help protect government personnel in the event of a deadly pandemic.
A federal investigation has found that the DHS is totally “ill-prepared” for something like the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic — or something worse, such as a global Ebola outbreak or the 1918 flu pandemic that killed an estimated 21.5 million people, according to a report released by the Office of the Inspector General on Monday.
In 2006, Congress gave DHS $47 million to prepare for such a national medical crisis. And the department did go shopping; it spent millions on this equipment that might now be completely worthless, missing or unnecessary.
For example, the audit found more than 4,000 bottles of expired hand sanitizer in storage with the DHS. Many of those bottles have been expired for up to four years.
Some 81% of the antiviral drugs the DHS has will expire by the end of next year. And 100% of the Tamiflu is set to expire in 2015.
Some 46% of the Relenza DHS has will expire then as well. It was unclear to investigators whether the antiviral medication had been stored at a proper temperature.
The department’s entire respirator stockpile has reached, or will soon reach, the manufacturer’s date of usability.
And the report suggests the department failed to determine real-life needs before buying the equipment in the first place.
The DHS Capital Region pandemic stockpile has about 350,000 white coverall suits, according to the report. Investigators say there is “no justification or related documentation” available to support that number of suits, nor does any kind of documentation explain why they were necessary.
The same is true for surgical masks. There are 16 million in the department’s inventory; no reason was given for having that many.
Overall, DHS failed to keep good records about what it purchased and what it received, according to the report. That may be why the government had to report a secondary stockpile containing 25,000 surgical masks and hand sanitizer as “lost.”
The report concluded “it is imperative that DHS be prepared to continue mission-essential operations should a pandemic occur,” and yet it found that DHS didn’t develop a clear plan on how to replenish their stockpiles of equipment. Nor did they have a good way to keep a good control over their inventory to monitor expiration dates on material.
“DHS is responsible for ensuring it is adequately prepared to continue critical operations in the event of a pandemic,” Inspector General John Roth said in a news release.
DHS agreed with all 11 suggestions the Inspector General’s Pffice made to improve the program. The department will assign an office to oversee the supplies and develop an adequate strategy for making sure the material stays current. It has applied for a shelf life extension with the Food and Drug Administration to extend the expiration dates on the antiviral medicine it has that will expire in 2015.
“We will work with them to see that this vital program is strengthened,” Roth said.