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Anthrax Antibiotics Delivery To Public By Mail Carriers Supported In New York Times Op-Ed

October 13th, 2008 · No Comments

Stanford University Business School Professor Lawrence M. Wein has an interesting Op-Ed article, “Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Anthrax…,” in today’s New York Times in which he supports the use of Postal Service mail carriers to deliver prophylactic antibiotics to the public in the event of an anthrax attack. In the piece (registration may be required), Wein lays out the situation and offers his recommendation: 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has directed 72 major American cities to devise plans to distribute anthrax antibiotics to all their residents within 48 hours of receiving them. So far, few of these cities are able to meet that goal. The traditional approach to dispensing medical supplies to a large population is to place the medicines in schools and other public places and instruct people to pick them up. The main shortcoming of this “PODs” approach (for “points of dispensing”) is labor: there are not enough public health workers to distribute the antibiotics quickly, and cities would have to rely largely on volunteers to perform unfamiliar (albeit simple) tasks in unfamiliar settings.

A better way is to let residents stay home and have mail carriers, escorted by police officers, go door to door delivering antibiotics. This can be done within eight hours, trials in Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia have shown. While the mail carriers (who have already taken antibiotics) distribute pills, public health workers can make bulk deliveries to special populations like universities, nursing homes, detention centers, homeless shelters and large hotels.

After the mail carriers have finished their routes, the next police shift can be assigned to PODs, opened up to serve anyone who may have fallen through the cracks and to supply additional antibiotics so that each citizen can ultimately be given enough for the full 60-day course of treatment.

Besides being faster, the postal approach can reach those people who, surveys suggest, might refuse to go to a dispensing point. It would also require fewer workers, and it would be much better executed – mail carriers cover their routes six days a week through rain, sleet and snow. And the elderly, the handicapped and those without cars could obtain their pills more easily.

The issue of preparing the public for a bioterrorism attack has been a focus on this blog. I am also interested as a CERT team member as we might be asked to help distribute medicine to citizenry after a bioterrorism incident. Whether or not mail carriers are the optimal method of distribution (I am also very interested in the use of in-home ‘Med Kits’ which is now being tested as well), I think it is important that the public knows more about this issue, and Wein’s article — and its prominent positioning on the Times Op-Ed Page — helps accomplish that.

In my interviews with policymakers and first responders, I have found that the public’s role in preparing and responding to bioterrorism is a major concern of them. Yet, it is something that most citizens have little idea about. So, I think it’s very important that the government start a dialogue on this topic which should include: a) asking and beginning to answer what we expect our government to be able to do to respond to the range of terror threats and b) a higher profile effort to familiarize Americans what they might need to do in such a situation. To me, the goal should not be that every citizen knows everything about every possible terror weapon, but that the first time every citizen hears about these weapons and what to do is not after an emergency occurs.

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Tags: Biological Terrorism · Preparedness Ideas · Public Health Preparedness

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