Maintaining public health is a national security issue

Eight years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, much of the public is understandably weary of war. And given the costly intelligence failures in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, they are also wary when it comes to warnings of new and continuing threats, especially in regard to weapons of mass destruction.

With the passage of time, one challenge is how best to keep the public engaged and aware of looming threats. So how do you get people to pay attention and demand action of their government?

In the mass media generation raised on MTV and ESPN highlights, one way is to release a two-minute DVD that asks: "Why wasn't H1N1 vaccine available before school started?"

The video boils down thousands of hours of research and hundreds of pages of congressional reporting into a simple question that brings the terrifying world of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons right into a current, everyday concern surrounding the outbreak and treatment of swine flu.

The video was done by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The commission was created by Congress and led by two former senators, Bob Graham (D., Fla.) and Jim Talent (R., Mo.).

They released their report, "World at Risk," last December and were asked to spend another year assessing preparations to deal with the threats they outlined. Their final report card is due in January.

Without action, they warn, a terrorist attack using a WMD could occur by 2013. They suggested that a biological attack is more likely than a nuclear one.

That's because the materials are easier for terrorists to obtain and the nation's preparedness level is lower. Why is the nation so unprepared for such attacks eight years after 9/11?

A big reason, the former senators point out in the video (available at, is that the country is still using the same chicken-egg technology to develop and produce vaccines as when Graham graduated from high school in 1955.

Employing new technologies, they note, would not only be cheaper, but would also allow for the mass production needed to effectively blunt the worst effects of a terrorist attack.

Equally important, it would give the country the capability to quickly gear up for a domestic emergency like H1N1 - a clear illustration of a nation unprepared.

Let's hope Congress, the administration, and taxpayers see the wisdom of linking national security and public health, and demand action.